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*Also starring: Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Rory Culkin, Cherry Jones, M. Night Shyamalan

Review by Susan Granger
3 stars out of 4

Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable") specializes in weird supernatural thrillers and, this time, he explores the meaning of faith and the myth of coincidence. The perplexing story revolves around what happens when a widower farmer (Mel Gibson) - a former minister who has left the Church but whom everyone still calls "Father" - his children (Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin), his ex-baseball-player brother (Joaquin Phoenix) and local police officer (Cherry Jones) find huge hieroglyphs in his bucolic Bucks County, Pennsylvania, cornfield and discover a mysterious, malevolent alien presence. But the curious, foreboding, highly publicized crop-circles which, seemingly, appear around the world aren't the theme here. Actually, they're red herrings or allegorical devices. Among contemporary filmmakers, M. Night Shyamalan has been compared with Steven Spielberg but, even more, he's a cinematic descendant of Alfred Hitchcock, using several popular Hitchcockian devices to shock and create suspense. Showing less and igniting the imagination is always far scarier than what we can actually perceive. There are several scenes reminiscent of "The Birds," while Tak Fujimoto's shadowy photography heightens the tension as does James Newton Howard's music. Like Hitchcock, Shyamalan delights in doing bits in his own films; you can spot him as the driver who accidentally killed Gibson's wife. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Signs" is a shamelessly manipulative, unabashedly spiritual 7. If you can forgive the flawed, derivative ending, it's a real chiller thriller.

Copyright 2002 Susan Granger

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