New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.
Today, director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) releases his latest thriller, The Happening. Shyamalan has been called by many the heir to Hitchcock’s throne, and he is one of my favorite directors around today. While the horror genre is being swallowed up by movies that trade characters and suspense for mindless gore, Shyamalan is making movies that are truly terrifying and yet tinged with hope. His movies are quiet, introspective, deliberately paced, and renowned for their twist endings – and along the way the audience is seldom bored and never cheated. His masterpiece, in my opinion, is 2002’s Signs, an alien-invasion movie unlike any you’ve ever seen that paints a beautiful picture of the providence of God. If I were to compile a list of my 10 favorite films of all time (a near impossible task), Signs would certainly be on it.
The movie focuses on Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a former minister who has abandoned his faith after a horrible tragedy. He now lives a quiet life on a Pennsylvania farm with his children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (the adorable Abigail Breslin in her debut performance), and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). The Hesses’ quiet life is interrupted, however, when a mysterious crop circle appears in their cornfield. As Graham and his family seek answers about their mysterious sign, a series of strange events begins to unfold, plunging this family into a struggle for their very survival but also into a discovery of long-lost hope.
Shyamalan delivers a film that is terrifying in its subtlety. We see no hulking monsters, just shadows in the dark. We hear no pounding music, just James Newton Howard’s simple, haunting, and yet beautiful theme. We see no blockbuster shots of buildings exploding or spaceships streaking across the sky, just a focus on one family’s plight amidst a world in turmoil. The acting is likewise moving in its understatement. Gibson delivers one of the best performances of his career. In a scene in which he is forced to confront long-repressed memories of his past, he communicates immeasurable grief with but a few seconds of facial expression. Shyamalan repeats his uncanny ability to get child actors to make you forget that they’re child actors and finds another breakout talent in Breslin. In his trademark nod to Hitchcock, he even shows up onscreen himself in a key role. This film will leave you physically shaken, but it is also moving on a deep and unexpected level. I can’t go into detail without ruining the film, but let me simply say that those of you with a deep trust in a sovereign and loving God will find much to celebrate in this movie. Signs is a cinematic suspense masterpiece, but what truly sticks with me is its simple spiritual truth that can sadly be so easy to forget. If it’s as dreary and rainy where you are as it is here in Louisville tonight, go give this one a spin through your DVD player and savor a film that will stay with you for quite a while. - **** (out of 4)
Signs is rated PG-13 for some frightening moments.
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