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Signs Reviews

Downbeat family drama and supernatural menace converge in writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's low-voltage thriller. Recently widowed Episcopalian minister Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), who experienced a spiritual crisis when his wife died in a freak accident, must weather a dark night of the soul with only common sense to guide him. Without his faith, Graham is hard put to cope with the increasingly ominous phenomena that follow the mysterious appearance of giant crop circles in the corn field behind the farmhouse he shares with his youngsters, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), and his younger brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). The family dogs start behaving strangely, Graham and Merrill hear strange noises at night, and the news is filled with spooky reports — crop circles have suddenly appeared all over the world, followed by mysterious lights hovering over major cities. Are aliens preparing to invade Earth, or is there a more mundane explanation? Graham is determined not to panic the children or let himself succumb to irrational fears, but the isolated farmhouse feels less like a sanctuary and more like a trap as the days wear on and reports of strange sightings trickle in. The film's tightly constructed conclusion is genuinely gripping, but like Shyamalan's earlier THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE, the movie takes its own sweet time getting there. The film's underlying themes dovetail efficiently with the action but the flashbacks that gradually reveal the exact circumstances of the late Mrs. Hess's (Patricia Kalember) demise don't actually add up to all that much, and the Hess brothers' obligatory character-revealing run-ins with colorful locals feel exactly that — obligatory.