Regardless of what the ads suggest, M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” has little to do with crop circles. Instead, the film’s really about immeasurable loss, mass paranoia, challenges to faith and good old-fashioned extraterrestrials.
The crop circles merely point the way to Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a former pastor and widowed father of two who lost his conviction the night he lost his wife. One morning, Hess discovers elaborate patterns carved into his corn stalks, crop circles that represent the beginning of a global invasion.UFOs start appearing in the skies and rail-thin creatures roam our streets. The visitors’ intent, whether hostile or merely inquisitive, is unclear. But Graham’s not taking any chances, deathly afraid of losing another member of his already reduced clan.The talented Shyamalan wears his influences on his sleeve, from composer James Newton Howard’s Hitchcockian score to the absorbing “Close Encounters” by way of “Amazing Stories” screenplay. The isolated farmhouse setting conjures pangs of claustrophobia mixed with the creature comforts of home. Pace and camera placement help Shyamalan manifest palpable tension from the likeliest locales (a shadowy corn field) as well as some dubious ones (a sun-drenched kitchen).Gibson, meanwhile, continues to mature into challenging paternal roles, drawing on his experience as a father of seven to create lasting portrayals on screen. As he slowly unravels, the film’s tension winds even tighter. Graham falls back on faith to rationalize what’s happening around him. Of course, the answers elude him.Speaking of, the perfect ending still eludes our director, who failed to properly wrap up the spectacular “Unbreakable” and stumbles towards a logical resolution here. The threads are tied, albeit unconvincingly. Fortunately, the primary special effect at work here remains your vivid imagination, and you’re in luck if you remember to bring it along.Grade: BBy Sean O’ConnellJuly 31, 2002