Why Signs is the ultimate alien invasion film for the Trump era - Little White Lies

Greetings, Glancers! I’m confused; I know M. Night Shyamalan is a bit of a meme – his movies are typically horror, they typically have a twist, his career has gone down the shitter multiple times due to some apparently awful films and decisions. I’m confused because I’d always believed that Signs was one of the movies he made before he became the meme, before his career went down the shitter only to bounce back with Split. I knew The Sixth Sense was both a major commercial and critical success – I liked it. I knew Unbreakable was more of a sleeper success – I love it. I believed Signs was seen as a return to horror and was generally better received than Unbreakable, and that many people had heralded it for its scares, for devastating emotional beats and an unnerving atmosphere. But I’m confused; It’s…. it’s clearly, clearly a comedy, right? This is absolutely, 100% not a Horror movie. It can’t be. Can it?

As of 2021, I had never seen Signs. As of 2022, I now have. I had already seen The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable at release. I saw Split when it came out. I saw The Happening a couple of years after its release. I’ve seen The Visit. I have not yet seen The Village, The Lady In The Lake, Glass, or Old. Or After Earth. Signs was free on streaming, so I thought I would plug that gap and at the very least enjoy an alien movie with hopefully a few chills, maybe a couple of good scares. Instead what I got was basically a precursor to The Happening – a movie rightly ripped for its weird tone, camp performances, and lack of horror. Look, I enjoyed The Happening. It was clear it was a nonsense – that was clearly the point. Signs is clearly too trying to be a joke, but for whatever reason critics and fans have entirely missed this and somehow believe it is a straight Sci Fi Horror for reasons I am entirely unable to fathom.

So I cam in expecting a horror, but instead I got nonsensical asides to faith and believe, a twist which amounts to ‘ah ha! God set all this up all along’ while ignoring the logical extrapolation that suggest such a God must be a psychotic maniac to kill your wife, make you lose your faith, have a clearly troubling relationship with the remainder of your family, launch an alien invasion, make your son a future right wing conspiracy theorist nutbag, make your daughter have undiagnosed psychological trauma highlighted by a fear of germs – setting up all of these things in order just so a preacher can regain the faith which you caused him to lose in the first place? What. The. Fuck.

Beyond that nonsense, beyond the horrible CG, beyond the bizarre comedy tone and dialogue and camera panning, beyond the hammy performances, it’s simply not scary. There’s a famous jump scare which is basically a piece of found footage. The scare happened – I was unaware and thought the actual scare was leading up to a genuine unexpected jump scare – and the movie went on. The scare amounts to an alien walking past a bush. I assumed something cool was going to happen, like that was the set up scare, something like the kids scream after seeing the alien, turn around to run away and the same alien is standing in the room with them. A light scare followed by a biggie. No…. no, that was the biggie. And that’s the whole movie. There’s a bit with a shadow on a roof, a bit with clicky noises in the corn fields, a bit with a hand under a door, in a basement, reflection on a TV, but these were equally non eventual. It’s not that I am trying to make a point that this scary movie didn’t scare me – I’m a horror fan and I love to be scared. I simply, genuinely do not see how any of this can claimed to be scary, how the movie can be claimed to be anything other than a parody. It’s not a film about God, or family, or grief, or guilt. It’s a joke. It is, without a doubt, a comedy – a Shyamalan experiment to see how gullible the audience is. Unfortunately, the conclusion of that experiment was already written in the stars and there is no twist ending – you are gullible. You fell for it.

Let us know what you think of Signs in the comments!

The Visit

Okay, okay, Mr. Shyamalan – I enjoyed The Visit. Even the corny humour and the pre-requisite twist worked for me and while there is absolutely nothing ground-breaking or new here, it’s a perfectly entertaining horror movie that I still struggle to find a target audience for – is it form regular horror fans? Is it for kids? Does it matter? I have no idea.

Shyamalan jumps on the found footage band-wagon with The Visit – the conceit being that our two lead characters want to document meeting their grandparents for the first time. This is the 21st Century, and our two leads are tweens, so this is perfectly believable. Less believable is the fact that they are sent off on their own, across country, to meet their grandparents without having the faintest idea what they look like or without their mum dropping them off. The film wouldn’t work if those things happened of course, but it’s a silly setup nevertheless. The grandparents seem lovely, even if the generational gap means things are awkward, but they all seem to get on. There are house rules, such as going to bed early and not leaving your room after 9.30, and not going in the basement, but we accept those because old people are weird. Time passes, things get weirder, and twisty twist time comes.

The twist becomes more apparent as the movie progresses – it’s Shyamalan so you know shenanigans are afoot. Mercifully, the twist isn’t left to the final moments but revealed fairly early, setting up an interesting finale. There are some inspired moments which allow the faintest dread to creep in – playing under the house is jumpscare bait, but fun, and the cleaning the over sequences recall our childhood Hansel and Gretal fears. I won’t go so far as saying there’s supposed to be any deeper level of generational paranoia going on here – the fear of aging, of the mentally ill, or of dying for example – the set up seems too silly to allow such thoughts. You will be left with questions – spoiler alert – why is this couple living at the house after all this time and why do they consent to the kids coming? You can’t throw around ‘they’re crazy’ as an answer for everything.

The film works because the four leads are all believable and watchable. Even the son (Ed Oxenbould), with his annoying raps somehow comes off as funny to me when there’s no good reason he should. Olivia DeJonge gives a nice twist on the final girl trope, while both Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are effective pre and post twist. How the kids aren’t destroyed mentally after this is a wonder – maybe they’ll crop up again as Shyamalan experiments with his own Extended Universe. So yes, I enjoyed it in spite of myself – it’s silly but feels like a good popcorn flick – light scares, some laughs, and a twist which most likely won’t catch anyone off guard, and a return to commercial success for someone once hailed as the next big thing.

Unbreakable – DVD Review

The follow-up to The Sixth Sense is a much superior film, smarter and more stylish, a mix of thriller, mystery and comic book which sees S.L Jackson and Bruce Willis teaming up once again. Willis is again distancing himself from his action movie persona by making films like these, proving he is a very capable actor. Here he plays David Dunn, the lone survivor of a traincrash- a man with a history of near-perfect health. He meetsElijiah, a comic book fan who kids call Mr Glass because of his crippling brittle bone syndrome.Elijiah takes an interest in David, and at first seems like a stalker. He wants to prove that David is almost like a superhero as he believes David is impervious to physical harm. He convinces David’s son and tries repeatedly to convince David, who claims he has been both sick and injured and is just a normal man who got lucky. However, David eventually realises otherwise and at the request ofElijiah, uses his powers to help the weak and defenceless.While The Sixth Sense was atmospheric, but relied heavily on its famous twist, Unbreakable is subtle and works on many levels. It was unfortunately, but unsurprisingly a smaller success. Shyamalan’s style is present here, with floating cameras and contrasts in lighting, built around a twisting plot. Naturally there is a twist, not as overt as his previous film but one which leads to more interesting dissection. Jackson and Willis are equally impressive, and the rest of the cast are good, mainly Robin Penn and Spencer Clark. A highly interesting film worth several watches, and an original take on the typical Comic Book movie.

This double disc edition has plenty of interesting features- cast and crew chats, deleted scenes with director introductions, and a super hero feature narrated by Mr S. L. Jackson.

*Originally written 2005