Rory Culkin

Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan)

It’s impossible to overstate what a profoundly, risibly bad movie Shyamalan has made with Signs. As the end credits started rolling, after the most disappointing “epilogue” Shyamalan could’ve come up with—it’s not just disappointing, it’s also pointless (pointless is the probably the best adjective to describe scenes in Signs)—my wife joked the movie took two weeks to film. To which I responded, “Thirteen and a half days longer than it took to write.” Because even with all the bad in Signs—and there’s so much bad—the writing is the worst.

And Shyamalan does this non-committal “camera as POV” thing—cinematographer Tak Fujimoto should be ashamed of himself for enabling Shyamalan to do it and embarrassed with how poorly he shoots the thing; Signs looks terrible–so, in other words, there’s a lot of competition for what’s worst in Signs. Shyamalan’s direction of the talking heads scenes—and there so many talking heads scenes because Shyamalan, who’s ego is literally oozing from every grain of film–involves characters almost looking directly into the camera but then just a little diagonally. Shyamalan is going for something with Signs, with his very intentional direction, his very intentional casting of himself as the guy who kills star Mel Gibson’s wife in a traffic accident (Shyamalan was asleep at the wheel) and vehicular manslaughter isn’t a thing and it just turns reverend Gibson into an atheist (but they never say the a-word because while Signs is definitely a millimeter thinly veiled Christian movie, there’s still the veil and it’s never going to get confrontational about it). Also… Shyamalan wrote the movie, so he did kill the wife.

Symbolism. Pass it on. Like the dog tchotchkes at the end to remind the viewer there are dogs, even if everyone forgot about them because they don’t matter because Signs is insipid.

Signs is full of symbolism but not really full because there’s not much because Shyamalan gets frequently bored with things like mise en scène because there’s better things to do like write the awful scenes between Gibson and his family. I went into Signs at least thinking Gibson would get through it unscathed (performance-wise). No. No. Not at all. It’s a godawful performance. He is incapable of pretending to be a former reverend, a widow, a husband, a father, a brother, and a farmer. The scenes with Gibson and kids Rory Culkin (who’s kind of terrible; it’s not his fault, Shyamalan seems to be having him do a Macaulay impression circa Uncle Buck but he’s still bad) and Abigail Breslin, who gets terrible material and terrible direction, but is still phenomenal. Shyamalan can’t figure out how to direct her because she’s not terrible like the rest of his cast.

Though, not Joaquin Phoenix. He’s leagues better than Gibson, though it helps Phoenix’s character is a dope. Gibson’s ostensibly functional enough to get to this point in his life—whereas Phoenix apparently always had Gibson to lean on—yet Gibson is real dumb. Real dumb.

Other bad things about Signs? Cherry Jones. She’s awful. Ted Sutton is so bad SAG should’ve shut the production down. Bad editing from Barbara Tulliver; Tulliver’s editing, cut for cut, is probably even worse than Fujimoto’s photography. Tulliver—presumably unintentionally—screws up all of Shyamalan’s jump scares. Larry Fulton’s production design is bad.

James Newton Howard’s score, while inexplicably a complete Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock rip-off (oh, wait, was Signs in the middle of Shyamalan being the new Hitchcock era), and poorly utilized, isn’t poorly composed. It’s competent, just misapplied. Everything else is incompetent and misapplied.

I was looking through Rodale for a good, fresh adjective to describe Signs but I think vapid does the job best. It’s worse than I expected it to be, which is saying a lot, but it also surprised me. I had no idea Gibson would so spectacularly fail or Phoenix would be—with a lot of conditions—so much better. And I guess Shyamalan managed to be inventively terrible, it’s just he’s a pointless kind of inventively terrible.

Oh, you know what… there’s the word.


Signs is puerile.


Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Larry Fulton; costume designer, Ann Roth; produced by Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, and Shyamalan; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Mel Gibson (Graham Hess), Joaquin Phoenix (Merrill Hess), Rory Culkin (Morgan Hess), Abigail Breslin (Bo Hess), Patricia Kalember (Colleen Hess), Cherry Jones (Officer Paski), Ted Sutton (SFC Cunningham), Merritt Wever (Tracey Abernathy), and M. Night Shyamalan (Ray Reddy).

Intruders (2015, Adam Schindler)

Should Intruders be good? It should be better, no question, but should it be good. It’s about an agoraphobic (who’s an agoraphobic solely as part of the film’s gimmick) who has to fend off intruders into her home. Beth Riesgraf plays the agoraphobic. She’s quite good in the first act, then she loses her own movie to one of the villains. Because it turns out Riesgraf isn’t a damsel in distress and is able to return the intruders’ ferocity.

I’m trying to give the spoilers a wide berth, but Riesgraf doesn’t whether their reveals well. Partially because it’s terribly written and terribly directed, partially because she just doesn’t. At the same time, writers T.J. Cimfel and David White–along with director Schindler–give Jack Kesy a whole bunch to do. He goes from being “vicious redneck #1” to Sherlock Holmes Jr., complete with qualifications to his attack on Riesgraf and her response. It’s exactly where Intruders shouldn’t go. It isn’t capable of asking big questions. It’s capable of offering working television actors a nice change of pace in a reasonably well-directed thriller. And I don’t think Intruders necessarily wants to ask big questions, but shutting Riesgraf out of her own movie to showcase Kesy’s acting? It defaults and becomes a pain to watch.

Vaguely amusing support from Martin Starr as a psychopathic thug (with what appears to be a glued on lumberjack beard). Rory Culkin’s good as Riesgraf’s flirtation, though he eventually just becomes the film’s damsel in distress (which it probably could have gone further with, but didn’t). Kesy’s fine. Riesgraf ranges from great to weak. But there’s nothing she could do after a certain point. The script breaks both Kesy and Riesgraf’s characters, his for the better, hers for the worse. Neither move helps the film at all. It’s just to drag out the narrative.

Schindler’s got some solid directorial moves on Intruders. He knows how to make a limited budget seem bigger, he does fine with the actors. Bad music by Frederik Wiedmann. Eric Leach’s photography is competent but lacks any personality.

Some of Intruders is pretty good, but when it goes bad, it doesn’t stop. Is that a saying? It is now, I want to be done with Intruders.



Directed by Adam Schindler; written by T.J. Cimfel and David White; director of photography, Eric Leach; edited by Brian Netto and Schindler; music by Frederik Wiedmann; production designer, James Wiley Fowler; produced by Lati Grobman, Erik Olsen, Jeff Rice and Steven Schneider; released by Momentum Pictures.

Starring Beth Riesgraf (Anna Rook), Martin Starr (Perry Cuttner), Jack Kesy (J.P. Henson), Joshua Mikel (Vance Henson) and Rory Culkin (Dan Cooper).

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