August 2, 2002 
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Watch the Signs
M Night Shyamalan might just have an Oscar-winner here

Som Chivukula

For the third consecutive time, the ending of an M Night Shyamalan film will spur great discussion around the watercooler the next morning.

But unlike his previous films, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Shyamalan's latest effort Signs does not have a surprise ending. The film's understated ending will confuse many moviegoers.

Yet, for much of its 1 hour 40 minutes running time, Signs delivers a series of well-timed spine-tingling suspense, unmatched in Shyamalan's previous hits, which will leave viewers jumping out of their seats.

Like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Signs is also set in Night's 'home town', Philadelphia. Mel Gibson plays Graham Hess, an Episcopalian minister who lives on a farm with his children Morgan and Bo (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin), and brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix).

Hess is mourning the death of his wife from a car accident. As a result, he has lost faith in God. He does not want his children and brother to lean on a higher power either.

Things change one day when Hess sees a perfect series of crop circles on his farm. He calls a sheriff (Cherry Jones) to investigate. As they try to find answers, the family slowly begins to get close to each other as each member is mourning in his or her own way.

The children have lost their mother and are not getting the support they seek in their father. Merrill, too, has demons of his own: he is an ex-minor league baseball player who could not make it to the major leagues because of his penchant for striking out.

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In this scenario, the family sees an alien on television, and with the crop signs in their backyard, they figure the aliens are out to get them. So they vote to be together no matter the circumstance. The foursome heads to the basement to protect themselves from the alien attack, a ploy they learn from a book.

Shyamalan does a terrific job of building the suspense. Most of the key events in the movie take place at night and the eerie cornfield adds to the suspense. Once the action moves to the house, the tension becomes unbearable. Shyamalan follows up many gripping moments with humour, a trick that works well so that the audience doesn't get too wrapped up with the aliens.

Among the film's many pluses are the performances and sound, which enhances the suspense.

Joaquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson in Signs As Graham Hess, Gibson turns in a moving performance, one that may arguably be the best of his career. His facial expressions show a lot of his pain. The children are a treat. Newcomer Breslin steals the show in every scene with her innocent looks. Rory Culkin does well too, trying to make sense of the happenings by reading a book about alien invasion.

Signs is not quite the shocker that Shyamalan came up with in his previous films. Yet everybody would want to know what, exactly, made Hess regain his faith.

Shyamalan could have put more effort into constructing the ending, which would have made the film more satisfying. But despite this, Signs is a thrilling ride and may well find itself in the midst of an Oscar race.

Also Read:
What you should know about Night Shyamalan
Tributes to misfits
'I try not to do the wink, wink'
Signs: Off the web

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