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Signs

I caught a late show of Signs on Friday night. Non-spoiler review: brilliant from a technical standpoint, but lacking in storytelling acumen. There are spoilers in what follows.

OK. So: Shyamalan does a marvelous job of creating tension, interweaving it with humor, and generally creeping the hell out of audiences. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography is brilliant. Full marks.

The problems for me were two-fold. First, and this is a purely personal issue, the philosophy of destiny espoused strikes me as weak. I suspect I might have enjoyed it more if Shyamalan had presented a specific religious stance, but instead we get a vaguely Christian belief in… well, in predestination. At the least, he could have had the courage to root it in a specific sect rather than leaving it general and fuzzy.

Mind you, it’d still be predestination any way you cut it. And there would still be the sudden realization that God (or Someone) killed a woman in order to bring someone else to the right point at the right time. The movie is not big on free will.

But all this is a personal issue, as I said. My anarchistic tendencies are not movie-making doctrine.

What bothered me more was this: the wires show. There was simply too much careful arranging of plot so as to support the thesis. The most blatant examples are at the end of the movie (I did warn regarding spoilers, and this is where it gets serious).

We find that the aliens have been defeated, but despite the fact that they’ve been defeated all over the world, the television commentator doesn’t know how. He knows who discovered the technique, and he knows that it’s been used worldwide, but he doesn’t know what it is.

This is clearly a contrivance so that we, the audience, can be surprised when the characters figure out what disturbs aliens. It’s a sour note. It’s not the only one of that type in the movie. Shyamalan doesn’t really seem to trust us to put together the pieces on our own.

That mistrust is particularly pungent in the scene in which the character he himself plays delivers a nice little expository lump, detailing both his role in the movie’s backstory and explaining that he’s locked an alien in his pantry. It’s really unclear how he did it, and it’s really unclear why he doesn’t call the cops. But it is very convenient for Father Hess (Mel Gibson), who needed to encounter an alien at this point in the plot.

Ah well. See it anyhow, unless the concept of predestination bugs you a lot. I enjoyed it greatly and it creeped me out; definitely a movie to see in a theater with a bunch of people around you. I’m glad I saw it. I just wish it had been more — Shyamalan should stop trying to be quite so clever and start trusting in his craftsmanship. There’s more to movie-making than revelatory endings.

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