Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo provided by Touchstone Pictures

Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), is more than a good storyteller. In his latest film Signs, starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, heís also a philosopher and theologian, but what he has to say never intrudes on the story and only enriches its entertainment value.

Father Graham Hess (Gibson) was the pastor of a church in a farmland community in Bucks County, PA until a family tragedy caused him to lose his faith. He lives with his brother Merrill (Phoenix) and his two children Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin) on a large farm. Since the tragedy, the entire family has been plagued by a variety of fear and paranoia, which is most evident in his young daughter Bo who leaves half empty glasses of water all over the house. After a few sips she invariably rejects the water as tasting contaminated.

The film opens with Graham awakening from a disturbed sleep. The first thing we see in his face and body language is fear and apprehension. This level of tension in the characters is translated to suspense for the viewer and Shyamalan maintains this suspense solely through character and movement. There are almost no special effects in this film yet the audience is on the edge of their seat as theyíre drawn in to the charactersí fear and paranoia.

In addition to this wonderful suspense, that Shyamalan seems to create out of thin air, is the very subtle philosophical theme that emerges. Is there a god and does everything we do have a connection and significance or is life just a series of random chances that the individual can choose to give meaning to or not? Because Shyamalan explores these questions with the quaint comedy that often emerges naturally in family life, it draws us even closer to the characters.

Indeed, when the film is over, itís the characters that we remember. We donít really care whether crop circles are a hoax or caused by aliens. We care whether this familyís trauma can be healed through a mysterious combination of love, compassion, laughter and paying attention to detail.

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