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Seen: 2002.08.06 & 15   ¶   Reviewed: 2002.09.12

Or, as perhaps more aptly spelled, Sighs.

Manoj Night Shyamalan follows up his bitterly anti-disability Unbreakable (a fact we’re not supposed to mention because it stars a cool black man) with mannered, sledgehammer Christian propaganda.

And I sat through it twice. Why? After three months of trying, I finally got two chicks from Now to come along. Problems? They pretty much ignored me, and the film critic was quitting the next day. So no coverage.

Signs is mawkish and stiff, and dishonest at its core: It’s a Christian morality play written and directed by an Indic and starring a doctrinaire, homophobic Catholic runt.

And it’s replete with implausible contradictions. Let’s look at two!

I kept thinking of the neverending discomfort of alternative Christian culture, where one always, but always has at the forefront of one’s mind the question “Is this a Christian thing I’m doing?” You know, they can’t listen to “secular” music, laugh only at Christian jokes, and walk around 24 hours a day as though God were about to strike them down at any moment for the slightest transgression.

For every single second of the movie, I had Godliness on my mind. Like walking on eggshells. Like trying not to say the wrong thing lest your spouse beats the shit out of you, or, in this case, sends you to hell.

If it’s the kind of movie Mel Gibson will do, it’s either good Christian violent entertainment with guns and black guys (pace Lethal Weapon), or good Christian family-values porn, like this one.

He plays a preacher, for heaven’s sake. (A real-life ambition, thwarted by international fame and fortune?)

I am a big fan of Joaquin Phoenix, a reputable serious actor (compare him in To Die For). But he cannot shine a turd.

The cutesy run-on line of dialogue “there’s-a-monster-under-my-bed-can-I-have-a-drink-of-water” is the sort of line I’ve seen a dozen times in my life, dating back to the very first Canadian-captioned TV show, the telefilm Clown White; it’s middle-class shorthand for Adorable Kiddie Bathos.

If I were Anthony Lane, would I not be able to pen delightfully purple prose here? Would I fail to be spitting mad and resentful?

Probably. Then again, he gets paid to quip. I do it on my own time.

Caption quality

I had, at one point, taken notes of caption errors. Wherever did they go?

Description quality

We have a non–Miles Neff narrator, as is to be expected given that she is a narratrix: Pat Lentz again, who plainly mispronounces “Shyamalan” twice. She acts like an aged Jewish bubbe reading a Chinese take-out menu phonetically: SHY•AM•A•LAN. In reality, we pretend the y isn’t there.

“The man from the photo, Graham Hess, sits up.” We pre-identify.

“Morgan takes a hit off his inhaler”: Druggie jive talk in reference to a ten-year-old?

“The blonde approaches the counter”: Ongoing endemic sexism at DVS. I think you forgot “leggy.” How about “busty”?

Manoj Night Shyamalan plumbs the depths of self-indulgence by acting in his own movie. Nobody seems to find it odd that an Indian lives in rural Pennsylvania. (I suppose there’s no reason why they should, since we’re told that Shyamalan actually does. But I thought he lived in Philly? I knew an Indian family who lived in rural Nova Scotia, but in any event, this is the U.S. we’re talking about.) He is merely described as “the dark-haired man” three times until his name comes up. Earth to DVS! He’s Indic! That’s important! Because the only Indic name prominently connected to this picture is that of M. Night Shyamalan, the writer–director! Clue in.

“Graham shakes his head and mouths the word ‘no.’ ” “He shakes his head and mouths the words ‘paddy wagon.’ ” More of the mouthing that’s all the rage lately.

Something is mentioned about “our view,” a notation that annoys one person I know. Then: “Now, his view passes into the front hall.” The question of the subjective camera needs to be urgently addressed. How? Describe π and Requiem for a Dream.

In end credits, “Ted Hutton as SFC Cunningham.” It’s Sutton.


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