Starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin
Written and Directed by M Night Shyamalan
Good horror films are so hard to come by in theaters. So it is perfectly understandable that when a scary or intense movie comes along that does almost everything right, it is remembered in high regard by almost everyone who had seen it. It becomes the kind of movie that you sit around a table and talk about, years later, because it was one of those flicks that really did suck you into it and made you sit on the edge of your seat, wondering what would happen next only to jump high into the air and spill your popcorn on the poor old grandmother next to you, who then proceeds to smack you with a cane so hard you spill your Coke on the big bald guy on your OTHER side, who indicates with his fists that you best move your seat pronto. Or maybe that’s just an isolated experience. But through all of that, you still remember every second of the film, every tense moment, all the atmosphere, the great story, the characters, everything. And at the time, you walk out of the theater almost completely content with your movie experience. Except something eats at you, something you can’t quite place your finger on at the time, a slight gnawing at the back of your mind that something doesn’t fit. And then it dawns on you one morning, days or weeks later, a realization so damning it wakes you up at night: The Ending killed it.
But let’s back up a moment. The movie in question here is called Signs, the third movie to be released by M. Night Shyamalan after the fantastic film The Sixth Sense and the somewhat underappreciated Unbreakable. For those unaware, Signs focused on a small family living in rural Pennsylvania, and how they came to terms with the fact that not only did extraterrestrial life exist, but it had come to earth as well. Shyamalan creates an absolutely fantastic film, and everything just fires on all cylinders from the very beginning. The cast is great, as Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix give outstanding performances, showcasing characters that feel human and allow the audience to relate and become invested in them. The supporting cast is also solid, but the story never shifts away from Gibson or his family. Characters come and go, but they are more for showcasing the reactions the rest of the world is having to the revelations, something the film touched on but mostly shied away from. By the time things start hitting the fan, viewers have been taken on a suspenseful, emotional journey with a family trying so hard not to fall apart at the seams in what could very well be the end of the world. And the alien menace itself is also handled wonderfully throughout the film. We never see the aliens, really, instead just witnessing their incredible capabilities, and watching in rapt attention as it becomes clear they are merely playing with the humans. It provides a fantastic contrast to watch for, as the family struggles to stay together and, ultimately survive, and these beings from outer space just play with them, like a cat would play with a mouse before bringing down the claws. Up until the end, the suspense never ceases, and some of the film’s best moments are timeless, like the Mexican birthday party caught on tape (for those who have seen it, you know what I’m talking about)
THE UNHAPPY ENDING
And then, there is the big reveal, something people come to expect in these films. Honestly, I never had a problem with the idea that an intergalactic being couldn’t get out of a pantry closet. And no, I had no real problem with Night showing the aliens in the house at the end. I thought it was kind of cool, and I was intrigued when I heard on the radio, “We found a way to beat them”. What kind of kick ass super weapon did humanity figure out at the last possible moment to save the day, I wondered. And then the alien gets smacked around by a baseball bat a little bit, and dies by water. Yes, that’s right: Aliens came to Earth and are vulnerable to water. It’s like acid to them, burning them alive. Apparently, while they were scouting out planets to harvest people off of or whatever they do, and they found us, they didn’t realize that the planet is made up of about 75% of the most toxic material that could ever touch them. It is literally in the air that their ships float in, every part of the planet they touch down on. Whoops. But hey, at least they can harvest the bodies and steal humans back to wherever they come from. Oh, no, wait Ã¢â‚¬” humans are about 60% water themselves. Kind of a big oversight there, I’d say. And then it hits you Ã¢â‚¬” the ending just made this entire movie make absolutely no sense at all. Not one bit. Does it change the fantastic suspense levels? No. Does it take away from the prior scares and such? Not really, no. But you can never look at the movie the same way again. Because you realize”¦these aliens are just plain stupid. Embarrassingly stupid. And for me, that detracts from the entire film; whenever I sit down to re-watch Signs
, I just shake my head. There was so much potential here, so many great things going on, and then the ending just derails the entire thing, something that would continue to happen in the next films Night would direct. It’s impossible to look back on just how awesome the film is because every thought, every viewing, is tarnished by the ridiculously stupid ending. And that’s a damn shame, because this movie and audiences deserved more.
HOW TO FIX THE ENDING
And it’s such a simple fix too: anything else. Literally, any other explanation would have worked. You could have had, I don’t know, cough medicine eradicate the aliens. And you could still keep the little fight scene in the living room at the end. Phoenix could either just beat the thing to death, or maybe accidentally spill some Robotussin on it and watch it burn up. This way, it doesn’t make the aliens look dumber than a bag of rocks, and it doesn’t make the audience feel ripped off at the end. You could have tied it in to the overall faith aspect too, maybe hinting that thee deceased wife loved buying generic Nyquil or something. The original ending is so ridiculous that you can take it away and insert almost anything else and it’s a massive upgrade.