In Doctor Zhivago David Lean reflects the horror of a massacre in the mirror of Omar Sharif’s face. M. Night Shyamalan relies heavily on this technique in Signs, betting that feeding our imaginations with the look of horror on another human being’s face creates far more terror than showing the monster. He knows years of video games and CGI monsters have deadened our sense of fright of anything he can create in the film lab. Like an old Twilight Zone episode, or John Carpenter’s The Thing, real fear comes from our own weaknesses, our loss of faith, our harbored resentments, our mistrust of each other. True suspense comes not from without, but from within, from the tension in our hearts. Although the beginning credits, especially the score, sets a the tone at Hitchcock, the movie’s message is all Graham Green.

Signs is no rousing Independence Day, at which, in 1996, Americans cheered equally when the White House blew up as when a drunken redneck saved the world. Our post-9/11 consiousness is too painfully aware of the individual and personal consequences of large explosions. Mass destruction has lost its patina of glory. Signs is a movie for 2002, a movie about our collective insecurity. The end of the world is a personal experience; any moment can trigger an event that will change our lives as we imagined them. The story is in whether we survive or fail when our worlds crumble.

M. Night Shyamalan has a special talent for directing children. His movies depend heavily on his child actors to pull off scenes of stark intensity to succeed. The boy, Morgan (Rory Culkin), is okay. But the little girl, Bo (Abigail Breslin), is transcendent. I have not been so mesmerised by a child on the screen since I watched Victoire Thivisol as Ponette.

Bottom Line: Highly Recommended.

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