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Movie: Signs

The following contains very mild spoilers for Signs, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.

Previously I have mentioned that, after spending money to see the dismal Phantom Menace, I felt like Lucas owed me a movie. This feeling goes both ways. After the magnificent Sixth Sense and the terrific-in-an-entirely-different-way Unbreakable, I feel like I owe M. Night Shyamalan. I will therefore see anything he writes and directs. Unless he keeps writing and directing movies like Signs, in which case I may reconsider.

Signs is 97% fantastic. Unfortunately, the remaining 3% constitute the Big Ending. Now, if a movie has a Big Ending, I usually refrain from even mentioning this when I talk about it, as foreknowledge of a Big Ending is a spoiler onto itself -- if you'd known that The Sixth Sense had a Big Ending, the twist probably wouldn't have been nearly as powerful as it was. But Shyamalan is now a victim of his own success: people know, going into his films, that there's going to be a Big Ending, and, to judge from his previous efforts, it's going to be a Great Ending. Furthermore, Signs spends its first 97% essentially setting up and then putting off the revelation of facts over and over again. You know of the existence of a Big Ending well before you reach it, because you know that, at some point, he's going to have to explain what the hell is going on. This is different from his other films, where you think you know what's going on throughout, and The Ending serves to demonstrate that, no, in fact you didn't. You could have lopped the last five minutes off either The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable and still had a mighty fine flick on your hands, albeit it one with an entirely different meaning.

So there are two independent forces at work, here, each ratcheting up excitement for Signs' Big Ending: expectations carried over from Shyamalan's other films, and the narrative structure of Signs itself. That's a lot to live up to. And, I am sad to report, that the Big Ending didn't quite do the trick for me. Signs doesn't sprint across the finish line so much as stagger. Even half an hour before The Ending you can already see it start to stumble.

So should 3% of so-soness negate 97% of greatness? Maybe, when so much of that 97% is geared towards building up tension for the three. But, on the other hand, up until the Big Ending I was enjoying Signs more than any other film I'd seen this year. And it therefore gets a recommendation with a caveat: enjoy the ride, because the destination is something of a let-down.

Posted on August 09, 2002 to Movies