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Sign Me Up

M. Night Shyamalan's latest feature gives a jolt to a lazy summer.

12:00 AM, Aug 2, 2002 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Again, we return to the fear of the unknown. Merrill asks his brother for "fatherly" counsel at such a desperate time. Graham explains in a pastoral way that there are basically two types of people. One type sees strange and coincidental events as simply a matter of luck--nothing but mere chance. Other people view such moments as something more, something cosmic. They look for signs and believe nothing is ever left to chance. Things happen for a reason. As Merrill takes some comfort in the latter, Graham assures him that it is quite the opposite. This could be the end of the world and "we are all alone."

At heart, "Signs" is a "War of the Worlds" remake. But there are no spectacular special effects and no cities obliterated on screen. The focus is on one family and how it deals with an impending alien encounter (with an especially claustrophobic and hyperventilation-inducing ending). It takes an apocalypse to bring Graham's faith--or lack thereof--to the ultimate test.

But aside from Shyamalan's greater vision of the human condition, as sheer entertainment, "Signs" is a genuine treat. I won't go as far as Newsweek and call him "The Next Spielberg," but Shyamalan does have a good sense of how to thrill an audience. Some of this is done with music and sound effects. Janet Maslin once wrote that "'The Shining' may be the first movie that ever made its audience jump with a title that simply says 'Tuesday.'" In "Signs," there is an eerie cricket-like noise emanating from a baby monitor. (In "The Changeling," you can feel your hair stand up as George C. Scott plays back his recorder over and over, convinced he hears a voice of a child ghost in his house. As he leans into the speaker, we start to hear a faint whispering.) And finally there's the always reliable shocker brought on by a glimpse of something. A reflection on a television screen, what looks like a leg moving in a cornfield.

People will come out in droves to see "Signs." They want to place themselves in that uncomfortable position where there is nowhere to hide. Some may want to cover their eyes--but why do that? You didn't pay $8.00 not to see the entire movie. It is about being terrified and entertained at the same time. Those looking for a nice jolt this summer--nothing more and nothing less--will be quite satisfied and possibly a bit rattled when they exit the theater.

And for those who see "Signs" and find it completely boring, I recommend "Faces of Death" parts I through VI.

Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.