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Before I dive into my first review in months, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for the incredible response to last week’s Operation Lionhearted cover reveal! I got over 200 views on that post alone, not to mention all the buzz on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Many thanks, too, to everyone who shared the cover reveal on their own platforms, the ARC readers who posted reviews on Goodreads, and for all the ebook preorders! Y’all are awesome.
I don’t usually post on the blog two weeks in a row–but I’m actually taking a social media hiatus next week in order to clear my mind and soul before the Operation Lionhearted Blog Tour. So consider this review a bit of a “catch up” post. Signs* is a movie I’ve wanted to write about ever since I saw it a few weeks ago, and I’m glad for the chance to finally give it a shout-out.
Having lost his religious faith after the horrific car accident that claimed the life of his wife, the emotionally broken former Episcopal priest, Graham Hess, retreats to a remote farm surrounded by corn in Pennsylvania to live with his two young children and younger brother. Six short months later, a sinister undercurrent of dread starts to take over the family when mysterious crop-circle formations appear in his field, and the same circular patterns manifest all over the world. More and more, as equally unexplained happenings occur, grief and denial mix with paranoia, making a highly volatile combination. Is this an elaborate hoax, an ominous sign from above, or could it be, indeed, the end of the world as we know it?IMDB synopsis
When we sat down to watch Signs*, I confess to some initial skepticism. For one thing, I’ve always associated M. Night Shyamalan with creepy films–and for another, I somehow misread the back cover and thought Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix were playing shapeshifting aliens masquerading as humans. (Now that would have been wild.)
My reservations quickly faded, however, once we started the film and I realized that yes, the Hess brothers are human. Our family is on a Mel Gibson kick thanks to a recent rewatch of Braveheart, and it became delightfully apparent in this opening scene of Signs* that we were about to see him in full-blown Dad Mode. If you’ve been following this blog for a certain amount of time, then you know that Dad Mode is one of my great weaknesses. (See also: The Mandalorian.)
I was also intrigued by the unique premise: “alien invasion meets one man’s faith struggle.” Gibson’s character, Graham, is a hollowed-out shell after the tragic death of his wife; once an Episcopal priest, he no longer even leads his church. But what no one knows except for his brother Merrill is that Graham has actually turned his back on God Himself. How could a good God allow his wife to die so horrifically? Graham insists he no longer believes in God, that God doesn’t even exist–and he angrily expresses this new belief to a stunned Merrill while they watch aliens invade their planet.
I hesitate to say too much more about the plot. Some of it is pretty far-fetched: why, after all, would these particular aliens with this particular weakness (I dare not say what it is!) invade this particular planet?! But Graham’s fierce wrestling with God is still the most compelling thing about this film. As the situation becomes more dire and the family farmhouse comes under attack from the aliens, the viewer and Merrill both realize that Graham isn’t quite the atheist he claims to be. In his most desperate moment, he doesn’t roll over in passive despair. Instead, he begins accusing God and insisting he hates Him.
It’s a moment of horrible, brutal honesty. Graham does believe God exists; perhaps he never stopped believing that. But he doesn’t believe God is good anymore. His agonized cries as he cradles his suffocating little boy bring to mind that famous quote from Saint Teresa of Avila: “If this is how You treat your friends, then no wonder you have so few!”
The breathtaking truth, however, is that even as Graham lashes out, God does not hate him. In fact, He loves Graham. Even in this moment of pain and fear, God sits with Graham, sustaining him and his family, and in His loving Providence He’s has already set their salvation in motion.
“See, what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”
Signs* is clever and very entertaining, despite the inexplicable plot hole about the aliens choosing this particular planet. Random and often hilarious little incidents throughout the movie carry far more weight than you’d ever expect–and when each incident’s true significance hits you, it’s is enough to make you shriek. The terrible suspense of an alien invasion is also tempered by some truly adorable, family-centered comic relief. And while there are some elements of mild horror, ranging from the harrowing details of a car accident to the Quiet Place-like terror of having bloodthirsty aliens in your house–it’s never gory.
Last but not least, it is a remarkably honest film–perhaps not the most theologically precise, but certainly one that honors the sovereignty and goodness of a tender and patient God.