A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Signs is a 2002 suspense movie in which a man who has given up being a minister in the wake of the tragic car accident that took his wife must come to grips with his faith as he and his family try to make sense of what appears to be an impending alien invasion. There is some violence -- a boy must kill one of his family's dogs after it turns violent, a man must fight an alien with a baseball bat. There is also demonic alien imagery and sound effects that happen more often as the story builds to its climax. Throughout, there is extreme tension and peril; while it's not graphic nor gory, some viewers will find it very scary. There is also some profanity throughout: "bitch," "ass," "s--t," "crap," "bulls--t," "piss." Some will be comforted by the movie's ultimate conclusion, but others will find it disappointing, even sugary or superficial.
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What's the story?
Writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan's SIGNS is a story of a crisis of faith, a wise child, and something out there that is very, very disturbing but ultimately part of a pattern that supports and embraces all of us. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) is a recent widower who lives with his two children and his brother (Joaquin Phoenix) on a farm in Pennsylvania. He was a minister but lost his faith when his wife was killed. He wakes up one night with a sense of dread. His children are not in bed. He runs out into the cornfield and his children show him that the stalks have been bent into a mysterious pattern. It can't have been made by a machine, because the stalks are not broken. And it can't have been done by hand, because the shapes are too perfectly even. It turns out that the strange signs have appeared all over the world. Graham wants to believe that the shapes are a prank or a hoax. He cannot bear the thought that his family could be vulnerable to more injury or loss.
Is it any good?
Signs is excellent but may be too intense for younger or more sensitive kids. Gibson is outstanding in a role that calls for subtlety, maturity, and a mixture of vulnerability and strength. The children, played by Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin, are just right. They act like smart kids who know what loss is and are scared but also tantalized by what is going on around them.
Shyamalan's use of the camera to tell the story is masterful. There is a moment when the screen goes completely black that will have viewers gasping. Shyamalan was clearly paying attention to Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg and has a few tricks of his own to contribute. His only mistake is in leaving too little to the imagination. Like his characters, he likes to have everything explained.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether they see patterns and purpose in what occurs around them and what it means to them. Where do people find their faith?
How was this movie suspenseful? How do music, camera angles, and sound effects heighten the tension? What if these elements weren't used to the degree that they were used in this movie? Would it be as intense?
This was a movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan, a director with his own distinct style. What are some aspects of his style? Who are some other directors with distinct filmmaking styles?
- In theaters: August 2, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: January 7, 2003
- Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Mel Gibson, Rory Culkin
- Director: M. Night Shyamalan
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: scariness
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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