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Signs (A Movie Review)

SIGNS (2002)

Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones, Rory, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Kalember and M. Night Shyamalan.

Screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan.

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Distributed by Touchstone Pictures. 107 minutes. Rated PG-13.

M. Night Shyamalan is quickly becoming one of our best suspense directors. Though his last two films have not quite captured the zeitgeist chills of his breakthrough hit The Sixth Sense, he has shown an almost unparalleled (in modern cinema, anyway) ability to unnerve an audience. Shyamalan knows, as Hitchcock and Spielberg and so many others did before him, that it is not what you see that is horrifying, it's what you don't see.

Using as a springboard to a drama the slightly silly premise of crop circles... which even Shyamalan acknowledges in the script have mostly been dismissed as hoaxes... he turns the screws on the audience until they believe anything he tells them.

Mel Gibson is manfully stoic – and somewhat shut off from his emotions – as a former Reverend who lost his faith when his wife is the victim of a senseless tragedy. He lives almost on retreat with his children and brother (Joaquin Phoenix) in a sprawling Bucks County, Pennsylvania farm.

Once the mysterious circles show up on their land the family is bombarded by mysterious sounds and flashes of movement in the dark. At first the family refuses to believe the possibilities, but then first the kids, then Phoenix, and finally Gibson give in to their fear of the unknown. A slowly-building sense of tension and dread reaches a fever pitch as the film heads into its final scenes.

It's a shame... but probably inevitable... that after this great build-up the eventual showdown between Gibson's family with the alien force is pretty much an anticlimax. Not so inevitable is the fact that it's actually laughably bad – but the ending really is terrible.

Still, just the fact that Shyamalan is thoughtful enough and talented enough to be totally engaging before painting himself into a narrative corner show that he deserves a little slack to see what he produces next. (8/02)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Posted: August 2, 2002.

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