Sunday, February 21, 2010
A couple months ago I did a review of the movie Signs and if anybody watched the video review, you’d know that I hold Signs in high regard. Well, the other night I revisited that movie and this time I paid close attention to some of the aspects of the film that make it an overall success. I noticed that this movie is rich in character development, emotion and theme but there is something else that makes this film work and I think that’s suspense. Signs is a perfect example of Hitchcockian suspense and horror. As a kid watching this, I was gripping my armchair in suspense anticipating what would happen next.
Hitchcock has proven that he is the master of suspense and he used a couple of techniques that were unique to gain this reputation. He never showed much of anything in his work, in Psycho he only showed close ups of the kills or he would only show the knife going up into the air and coming down. This makes the audience fill in the blanks to what happened created an overwhelming sense of fright. In Rear Window, he is telling the story from the perspective of Jeff and you never once leave his room even though you want to see what’s happening in the other apartment. The same can be said with Signs, you never know what’s happening outside, you never get a good glimpse of what the aliens looks like (only silhouette) and you follow the families perspective. They run into the basement and never look behind them, the camera trucks into the basement and never shows what’s chasing them.
There are a couple of scenes that I want to bring up.
Let’s look at the closet scene in which Merrill is watching the TV and they show footage of a Spanish kid’s birthday party. The newscaster states that this is legit footage of the alien and from the time in which the footage is played to when you see the alien you are in anticipation. You want to see it and then the kids get in the way and Merrill shouts ‘Vámonos!’ Then when you see it, it’s blurry. It’s haunting, and you feel the anxiety of Merrill’s character.
Another great example of this would be in the final scenes when the aliens surround the house that family is just standing there, waiting for them to come in. In this scene, you hear the aliens stepping on the porch floorboards and in between the boarded the holes of the boarded up windows you can see their shadows walking across the window. You never once see what’s outside, keeping the audience focuses on the family and keeping them in the moment of anticipation.
In the basement, when all the lights go off you don’t see anything; none of the action is visible but you hear it. It’s a great achievement and practice of the old saying, “the less you see, the scarier it is.” The darkness is frightening because you can’t see anything and you don’t know what’s around you. It keeps the audience on edge. Hell, even when they turn the flashlight on, you barley see anything.
The great thing is: there are so many more examples of this brand of suspense and that’s why I love this movie. Even now when I watch it, I still get freaked out by some of the scenes. When you watch the movie again, look for these kinds of scenes where you don’t see anything but you know something is happening. Or even subtle scenes such the ones with the baby monitor. With that, I will leave you with a quote from the movie that really shows Hitchcockian horror at it’s best…
Merrill: “What’s happening out there?”
Graham: “I can’t even imagine.”