SignsSigns marks the third venture into the territory of the supernatural for M. Night Shyamalan. It falls somewhere in between his previous two films, the blockbuster The Sixth Sense and the more introspective Unbreakable. What is clear is that Shyamalan is a master at creating mood and tension. Signs is notable for its mix of looming dread and a surprisingly sublime sense of humor. He takes the audience on a steady march toward the end, building up drama, and then lessening some tension with humor. Then he begins again, ratcheting up the tension before relenting again. This time around, crop circles are the main focus of his movie. All of a sudden, they begin appearing across the globe in large numbers, including in a cornfield in rural Pennsylvania.
The crop circles are appearing all over the world, but the movie focuses on the Hess household. The vast majority of Signs takes place within their house, driving the focus to a minute level. As the movie progresses, events become increasingly global, and Shyamalan focuses even more intently on the family, by having people hide in closets, board up rooms and other such things to generate a claustrophobic feeling. . Gibson and Phoenix both give restrained, thoughtful performances, usually out of character for both actors.
'Restraint' seems to be the main theme Shyamalan is attempting to achieve. He holds back revealing what is causing the circles (it's really no secret) and after he does he still keeps things ambiguous. His directing style here asks for less, and he is just as happy to film the actors reactions to things, forcing the viewer to imagine what Gibson or Phoenix may be looking at. Shyamalan keeps his viewer attentive by doling out small amounts of information at a time. He fully develops his characters, but reveals them a little at a time, in a manner that feels natural and not forced, all the way to the end of the movie. Like his other two movies, he is able to bring everything together in a worthwhile manner at the conclusion. If anything, Shyamalan paces his film so much that it drags at some points, and could probably use a little judicious editing. What Shyamalan also manages to do is hide the fact that Signs is really a classic sci-fi movie, masquerading as a human drama. Is it cheating? Maybe, but he makes the film so enjoyable that in the end, it doesn't really matter.