Signs (12A)

Review by Jack Foley

WHEN Mel Gibson’s former priest turned farmer, Graham Hess, wakes up one morning to find a series of large circles among his crops and the pet dogs behaving strangely, he must fathom whether the damage is the work of local pranksters or, worse, the sign of an impending alien invasion.

And so begins the latest slice of supernatural tension from The Sixth Sense director, M Night Shyamalan, as Hess bids to confront the possibility that the end of the world is approaching, while wrestling with his grief over the death of his wife in a car crash and the loss of faith that prevailed.

The movie which follows is a virtual masterclass in sustained suspense, which strikes a near-perfect balance between the thrills and chills, while delivering a nice line in humour to alleviate the emotional thrust of proceedings.

To reveal too much more, of course, would be to ruin the fun; as Signs is the type of potboiler which thrives on teasing its viewers.

It is a show and tell of immensely enjoyable proportions, confirming the director’s undisputed ability to deliver that old-fashioned jolt to the system, while delivering a rollicking good yarn to boot - the type of which harks back to Hitchcock in his heyday.

And if proceedings ultimately end with a whimper rather than a bang, then the movie can easily be forgiven, for audiences are certain to have great fun along the way - there are at least two, genuinely jump-out-of-your-seat moments to savour.

Shyamalan, as both writer and director, has fun toying with his viewers’ perceptions, while throwing in some pretty weighty issues surrounding faith and the fragility of life, yet his movie remains a far lighter affair than his previous effort, Unbreakable.

Gibson is on terrific form as the honest farmer, struggling to come to terms with the loss of his wife, while trying to raise his two children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin) with the help of his former baseball playing brother (Joaquin Phoenix), and his restrained performance effortlessly captures the sense of an everyday guy attempting to understand extraordinary events.

Phoenix, meanwhile, delivers an equally well-observed foil, providing an outlet for much of the movie’s humour, while youngsters Culkin and Breslin stay the right side of cute.

Signs is far less showier than its premise suggests and works better for it, only offering glimpses of its possible visitors throughout to tease and surprise the viewer. As such, it remains a thinking man’s Independence Day, or a Close Encounters homage, which taps into the intellect while also providing out and out thrills.

The Shyamalan hot streak shows no sign of cooling just yet…

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