13 December 2005

“Signs” …point to ‘No’

In a word, avoid. Unfortunately it’s a competently executed movie, at least as far as acting and cinematography—so sadly, I must break with etiquette and provide a synopsis. It’s the only way to explain how truly bad the movie is.

Mel Gibson plays a priest who lost his faith after his wife was killed in a car accident. He now lives with his son, daughter and brother in their 2-storey house at the edge of a large cornfield. The corn is apparently his. Quite what a priest was doing with a large cornfield is never explained; the answer seems to be ‘not much’, as there’s no evidence of any kind of harvesting equipment, or even a barn.

One day a large crop circle formation appears in the field. The dog starts acting up. During the night, the priest sees a figure on the roof and thinks its a local troublemaker. He and his brother chase the figure, but it gets away.

The local cop comes out to take a statement. She mentions that local animals have been going crazy. The priest’s daughter develops an obsession with leaving glasses of water around the house because they are unclean.

The son wants to be a cop, and digs out an old baby monitor to use as an imaginary walkie-talkie. Because, you know, a 10 year old kid wouldn’t see the difference between a receive-only pink and white baby monitor, and a police walkie-talkie.

There are crop circles being shown on TV. They have appeared around the world. Soon there are lights in the sky. Highly advanced aliens have arrived on earth and made crop circles, apparently so that their fellow highly advanced aliens can use the crop circles as signposts and pilot more identical spacecraft to earth.

Conveniently for the suspense and the special effects budget, the alien spacecraft are invisible during the daytime. However, we know they are still there because a TV crew catches film of a bird flying into one of the invisible spacecraft and smashing its head in. If I’d known at that point what the rest of the plot would be like, I might have been tempted to do the same.

The family goes shopping and the son buys a book which instructs him in how to make tinfoil hats, which he and his sister promptly start wearing. At this point I was starting to wonder if the movie was going to turn into a comedy, because it also turns out that the highly advanced aliens use analog FM radio for communication even though they apparently have telepathy, and this allows the family to detect when the aliens are approaching using the baby monitor. No, really. It’s like the plot of Silent Hill, only dumber.

The local vet calls the ex-priest, but the line goes dead. He goes to the vet’s office to investigate. Coincidentally, he’s the guy who accidentally killed the priest’s wife. He drives off in his SUV, after casually mentioning that he shut an alien in the kitchen pantry.

The ex-priest hero goes in to investigate. Yes, highly advanced aliens are unable to break through a wooden pantry door when it is barricaded shut with a table and a couple of chairs, so it’s still in there. Hero gets a glimpse of an alien, cuts the tip of its fingers off as it reaches for him under the door. He hurries home. It seems that an alien invasion is underway. According to the book, the aliens can’t use weapons because if they did we’d use our nukes, so they have to take us over via hand-to-hand combat. Really.

Inevitably there’s the ineffective boarding-up-the-house procedure, followed by aliens trying to get in, people hiding in the basement, kids dropping flashlights, and so on. The aliens are fought off until they apparently get bored trying to break in. The son has a panic attack which brings on his asthma, but is calmed to safety.

The hero wakes up from a flashback dream of his dying wife. His brother has the radio on, and someone is announcing that the aliens have left. They emerge from the basement in search of Ventolin for the kid.

But oh-ho, there’s still one alien left–the one the hero injured, of course. It grabs the kid and prepares to poison him and harvest his organs, or something.

And then we get the plot twist, which is that the dying wife’s last words were a clue to how to fight the alien: hit it with a baseball bat. They do, and some of the glasses of water are knocked over. It turns out that water is horribly corrosive to the aliens. Better yet, the kid’s asthma made him unable to breathe the alien poison gas.

And then we get the happy ending. The ex-priest realizes that all those incredibly contrived coincidences could only be proof of a higher power, and he rediscovers his religious faith. Allelujah, roll the credits, pass the sick bag.

So there we have it. A movie that wouldn’t look out of place as a Sci Fi channel TV movie, about a priest regaining his faith because his family survives a cliché of an alien invasion. I kept thinking there was going to be some kind of major plot twist that would make it more than the slow and ponderous B-movie it appeared to be, and explain the glaringly implausible bits of the plot, but no, there wasn’t.

M. Knight Shyamalan’s next movie, The Village, got significantly worse reviews than this cinematic turd. I think I’ll go remove that one from my Netflix queue before it’s too late. If there’s any sinister mystery in Signs, it’s the mystery of how Ebert and Roeper and so many other reviewers gave it such glowing praise. Alien mind control perhaps?

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