Seven reasons why Signs is the creepiest movie you didn’t see
For its 10th anniversary, the Philadelphia film festival screened M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Signs.’ All I can say is it is one of the creepiest films I’ve ever seen. If you didn’t see it, check out why it’s the creepiest film you never did see.
I never saw Signs in the movie theater in 2002. Having watched The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, I didn’t quite understand what M. Night Shyamalan wanted to accomplish with Signs. It seemed small, provincial and leagues away from the awesomeness of a social worker ghost and the Glassman.
But, watching Signs during the 21st Philly Film Festival screening, I realized it’s deliberately small and provincial. It’s about a small town and an eggshell fragile family attempting to heal the ruptures caused by absent faith and an absent mother/wife. However, as the characters dealt with those issues, the film’s overarching narrative made me realize that it was also one of the CREEPIEST movies I’ve ever seen. Signs is definitely Halloween-worthy. Everything about Signs is creepy from the opening credits until the final swing. The film provides a classic cinematic thriller feeling along the lines of Rosemary’s Baby. Shyamalan didn’t use gore, bright lights or angry serial killers. Instead, he relied on barking animals, shadowy faces, loud noises and cut off fingers.
So, why is it one of the creepiest movies for the 21st century? Let me count the ways …
- The credits set the stage
Honestly, the credits creeped me out. The perfectly timed dramatic music displaying the credits through a green background with a faint light circle felt inexplicably menacing. Every time a new name flipped up, I jumped. My expecting something when seeing nothing helped set the stage for the rest of the film.
- The mundane is scarier than the insane
Signs felt like an old school Hitchcock where minor things such as a tire squeal, an open pizza parlor door, a field at nighttime, a picture in a book, and a rabid dog felt far scarier than contemporary torture porn flicks.
- Absence is presence
Let me tell you, the less you see in Signs, the freakier it is. By placing the visitors and the protagonists in shadows, by hiding most of the light, and by delaying the reveal of the antagonists and their plans, M. Night Shyamalan lets the audience’s imagination play. Shyamalan scared me more by showing me less. Scenes where Graham possibly faces a visitor through a closed door or in the middle of a corn field had me watching through open fingers.
- Humor helps
Because the film doesn’t scare the audience non-stop, it prevented me from becoming desensitized to the horror. When Merrill discusses his strike out career with the recruiter, Graham listens to the pharmacist’s confessions, and the kids wonder why crop circle geeks can’t get laid, I felt grateful, but I also kept wondering … what happens next?
- It features creepy, pale-faced children
I have no idea why, but cinema loves creepy pale-faced children. From Children of the Corn to Village Of The Damned to The Shining, all I know is if I see a pale tow-headed child on the side of the road I should run in the opposite direction. Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin did a great job as Morgan and Bo. But, in the beginning, I wasn’t certain if they were in danger or they WERE the danger. Their pale emotionless faces when they initially discovered the crop circles and when facing their own pets, made me fear them and fear for them.
- It cast crazy parental figures
Come on, let’s be honest. Shyamalan cast two of the craziest men in Hollywood. Maybe they were sane then, but the underlying tension in their characters helped sell the story. Gibson did an excellent job as a man whose internal fractures quietly disrupted his family. Likewise, Joaquin Phoenix rocked as the slightly lost loser brother. My favorite scene in the film includes the two characters standing before the basement door facing the unknown threat. Nothing is hotter than two men protecting their family.
- The setting is everything
All of the film’s shots held an eerie tone. By setting the film within the middle of a farm and on the outskirts of a corn field, we see the protagonists isolated from assistance, which is already scary. However, the house itself also maintained that isolated feel from the basement to the kid’s room to Graham’s morning showers. By using silence and just showing the rooms without overtly insane action, had me on the edge of my seat.