Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin
Oh my FearTASTIC friend, where have you gone?
Every time I think of M. Night Shyamalan, I think of that tired tell of a friend who was with you through thick and thin in the midst of your innocent childhood, only to start to inch away from you as puberty hits, and abandons you fully by the time you reach your prime teen years. Today, the mere mention of M. Night Shyamalan generates a collective groan from society with the extra loud cat scratch finish coming in from the geek community. In all fairness, this reaction was earned through years of artistic mediocrity but THIS my FearTASTIC friends is where we celebrate a time when M. Night was a name that garnered excitement!
My inner geek will always have the gritty and realistic take on superheroes, Unbreakable as my favorite M. Night flick but my personal favorite that had me sweating in the movie theater was his horror/drama/Sci-Fi gem, Signs. It’s pretty easy to say why his first and most famous flick, The Sixth Sense is his proudest flick in the horror realm. This is was the initial ghost flick that had all the nuances that M. Night would be later known for which ironically, could be part of his eventual artistic demise. His second offering Signs however, is when I personally felt that M. Night reached his stride for horror storytelling. Everything I had enjoyed about The Sixth Sense was amplified in this movie; the slow burn, the establishment of character flaws that prove to be essential for the story, the patient way the suspenseful bits are sprinkled throughout the movie until its culmination and my favorite, the way his movies would force you to replay of the movie in your head in case you missed anything which would then lead you to having pensive thoughts about the message that his movies usually carried which would consequently leave chills throughout your psyche.
This take on the alien invasion flick is unique in the sense that the backdrop is a farm in a sleepy town and the focus is a dysfunctional family. The genius of (earlier) M. Night movies is it goes against the grain of most horror flicks and fiercely focuses on the characters. The slow burn on getting to know these characters are usually what makes the scares even more potent. The more you learn about their lives and their tragic flaws; you worry for them when danger is afoot. You begin to care about these people which make the suspense more genuine instead of the alternative which for me, is mostly about entertainment. Although I was thoroughly entertained with this flick, I was admittedly, squirming in my seat drenched in brow sweat (I know ladies, try to erase that image out of your head).
As much as I gush about the wonderful tone this movie set, the performances are top – notch; Mel Gibson gives a fantastic performance as a former preacher who has lost his faith after the death of his wife. His children are coping in their own eccentric ways and his washed – up athlete brother (in one of my favorite roles for Joaquin Phoenix) lives with the family while contemplating the direction of his life as well. Like M. Night being the friend who got to cool for you as you got older, I feel that Mel Gibson is that friend who was charismatic and outgoing growing up and then got REALLY into drugs and ended up being sketchy. You still see him at parties and you’re friendly enough but you’ll never really make plans to hang out with them in the near future. Before all that mess though, I loved the way Mel Gibson’s character was sullen yet you can tell his was just angry. It gave that extra tension to a movie that was already loaded to the brim with tension. The children in this flick never get annoying, which is unfortunately a rarity for me. Rory Culkin does a great job playing the fact-checking son that comes off more charming than obnoxious and Abigail Breslin does the right amount of cute when it comes to her odd demands with her family. This is a family that’s in a crisis and when you add the mysterious creature lurking around their farmland, it adds a touch of terror that adds to the existing tension which in turn makes you care more about what happens to this clan.
There are moments in this film that made me jump and even worse the drive home had me thinking about aliens lurking around in my house hold and then in the shower when I look out the window at night thinking about an alien just calmly walking by and the…okay, you get the point. Creating genuine tension folks, that’s what M. Night excelled at in a ridiculous way.
Please come back my friends (M.Night and Mel), I miss you.
**I apologize FearTASTIC fans but I used the #23 TWICE the last two months (interesting number for all you horror fans) so this edition is actually FearTASTIC #25! We’re a quarter down to a COOL 100 folks! Thanks for all the support! **
Life is FAR more interesting when we take interest in things that scare us.