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'Signs' delivers a unique style



Published: Wed, July 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Some of the film's eccentricities may take getting used to, but it expertly builds tension.

By MILAN PAURICH

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

M. Night Shyamalan, the man who turned "I see dead people" into a catch phrase three summers ago with "The Sixth Sense," rebounds from 2000's unfortunate "Unbreakable" with "Signs," a haunting psychological thriller that's easily his most assured and satisfying work to date. Yet I'm not sure whether even "Sense" fans will go for this malevolent version of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" that replaces Steven Spielberg's childlike sense of wonder and awe with clammy horror and dread.

Shyamalan's signature style is still very much in evidence (hypnotic when it's working on all cylinders like here and in "Sense," but plodding and listless in "Unbreakable"), and that very deliberateness might turn some folks off.

Certainly the cast's eccentric line readings and Shyamalan's stylized dialogue will take some getting used to, even among sympathetic moviegoers.

Anyone unwilling to get on board after the movie takes a shocking plot turn midway through that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up will probably wonder what all the fuss is about.

A creepy find

After a nerve-rattling credit sequence in which James Newton Howard's propulsive musical score echoes Bernard Hermann's classic themes from some of Alfred Hitchcock's spookiest films, "Signs" opens in the Bucks County, Pa., home of gentleman farmer and former minister Graham Hess (Mel Gibson).

It's early morning, and Graham and his younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) are rudely awakened by high-pitched squealing noises coming from outside the house. Racing to discover the cause of the racket, they find a 500-foot design of circles and lines carved into the family's cornfield.

Soon, things take an even creepier turn. The family dog begins growling ferociously for no apparent reason; Graham's preschool-aged daughter (Abigail Breslin) thinks the tap water is "contaminated"; and there are reports on the evening news of similar crop circles turning up in locations as far away as India and England. Even more alarming is TV footage of unidentified aircraft flying over Mexico City.

Shyamalan ratchets up the suspense to such an unnerving degree that tension hangs over the movie like a shroud. The director's most impressive achievement may be in turning an innocent-looking baby monitor into the greatest source of fright in recent movie memory. Now that takes skill.

XWrite Milan Paurich at milanpaurich@aol.com.




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