But thatís O.K.; we can fill in the blanks.    


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


M. Night Shyamalan has written, directed and stamped his emotions on the new movie Signs, starring Mel Gibson.  The film is Mr. Shyamalanís entirely personal exploration of faith and fear.  He fastens on a fatherís protectiveness of his children, lingering on the fatherís reactions to danger.  It is a slow movie that gives us plenty of time to try to understand what Mr. Shyamalan is trying to tell us. 

                A parentís fierce protectiveness of his young gives way to the desolation of knowing there is nothing more he can do to protect them.  It is this fear that seems to be Mr. Shyamalanís preoccupation.  He lingers lovingly on his favorite scenes.  He is enamored of Mel Gibsonís face, which remains handsome if unreadable in long close-ups when his expression is all we have to go on.  But thatís O.K.; we can fill in the blanks.   

Alien beings have mapped the landscape of the world with crop signs in preparation for their invasion of the planet.  These mysterious indentations in fields that have puzzled England and America for years are used to fine effect in Signs.  There is a residual public curiosity about them that makes them a good backdrop. 

                Mercifully, the aliens are seldom seen Ė until the end when the special effects people can no longer resist showing us their creations.  We are scared the old fashioned way, by a hand here, a silhouette there, or a shadow beneath a door.  This restraint serves well to set the ominous tone of the movie.   

                Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) is a minister who lost his wife in a car crash.  Her death has driven Graham to shed his collar and his faith.  We watch the minister, now wearing a sweater, with the growing certainty that some transformation will make him reach again for that collar.  We can be certain that, ďWeíre all on our own now!  No one is watching out for us,Ē is not a sentiment that will be left hanging in the air at movieís end.

                Uncle Bill (Joaquin Phoenix), Grahamís brother who moved in after the crash, is a real plus in the movie.  Phoenix, of the apparently bottomless Phoenix family talent pool, is warm, loyal, and restrained Ė until called upon to be heroic.  Cherry Jones gives another good performance as the local cop who must tell Graham the details of the crash.  That verbal description will stick in some memory pod of your brain for an unwelcome while.

                Still, with all the melodrama unfolding before our eyes, it is those crop signs that steal the movie.  By day or night, blowing gently and harboring their secrets, the cornstalks are beautiful to behold until suddenly we see the designs.  Itís good for this movie that we can still, in real life, let our imaginations jump around a bit:  Hoax?  Navigational signs?  Design gifts from clever farmers?  Itís not a very good movie, but the mystery of those signs props it up deliciously.

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