sleeping dogPG13
    Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Cherry Jones, Abigail Breslin, M. Night Shyamalan, Patricia Kalember
   M. Night Shyamalan

Writer:   M. Night Shyamalan

As I sat watching producer/writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, I thought “this guy is a one-trick pony. His The Sixth Sense was a masterpiece; Unbreakable was passable, but this one is fairly atrocious.

The story centers around a widowed Pennsylvania farmer, Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), who discovers strange, massive crop circles in his corn fields one night. He imagines them created by pranksters but his two children, son Morgan (Rory Culkin) and daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin) at first believe they were done by God, until the family dog starts acting weird and something’s jumping on their roof, then the kid consensus is that aliens are invading. Graham, a former minister who lost his faith at the same time he lost his wife in a freak roadside accident, certainly doesn’t buy into either scenario and along with his brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), Graham searches for a more rational answer.

Trouble is, there isn’t one. Crop circles crop up around the world and the Hess family comes to realize they are not alone. Gripped by fear, they stay glued to their TV set and wait for the awful outcome of whatever is going to happen to them. Oh yeah, they do manage, at one point, to get off their butts long enough to board up the house.

There’s no denying that Shyamalan knows how to craft a chilling scene and you see some of that here but for the most part, this stuff is just earnest silliness. As a director he turns every good actor into a zombie. There are some cute and funny setups and dialogue bits but generally, the actors, including Shyamalan himself playing veterinarian Ray Reddy, are mired in melodramatic shock — faces frozen in hypnotic stillness, arms plastered to the sides of their bodies and moving in slow motion — that keep the film dull and ridiculous. These are not real people reacting to frightening events.

If Graham really comes to believe that aliens are at large, then why not stock up on some weapons, anything. If the news media of the world jump on crop circles and flashing lights in the sky, why has nobody but one Bucks County policewoman, Officer Paski (Cherry Jones), shown up at the Hess farm to investigate?

While crop circles have appeared around the world for real, most have been explained away as hoaxes. Shyamalan went the way of “what if”… and presented his alien theory … except it’s right out of a 1950s B-movie and echoed in the dumb alien theory book that Morgan picks up at the local bookshop. They’re evil and here to invade and that’s that. You wait the whole movie to see one and when you finally do, they look lousy and they’re grossly stupid to boot — about as stupid as the ending when patriarch Graham finds his faith and all is right with the world.

Lotta says:
There wasn’t a single scene in this film that I bought into. I kept waiting for the punch line. If it’s not a hoax and they aren’t aliens, then surely the once great Shyamalan would come up with a riveting alternative … or at least execute the familiar with daring and panache. Guess not.