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By Eric Allen Hatch | Posted

M. Night Shyamalan's greatest asset has become his greatest albatross. Having delivered a now-legendary surprise ending to cap his first major success, 1999's The Sixth Sense, the writer/director quickly attempted to replicate that formula with 2000's Unbreakable. With Signs it's become a rut, ruining what could have been one of the summer's most enjoyable thrillers. Former minister Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) has retired to his Pennsylvanian farm after his wife's death in a gruesome car accident. His younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) has moved in to help Graham and his two children. Very quickly, spooky things start to happen: Huge, intricate crop circles appear in the cornfields; night prowlers are spotted around the house; dogs start acting extremely threatened. Before long, the Hesses--including the skeptical Graham--are convinced that aliens have landed. Several scenes in which the Hess household discovers, on the TV news, that others all over the world are sharing in their fright and confusion are perfectly riveting. Sadly, Signs becomes pathetic and pandering, an exceptionally chilling shocker crassly turned at the 11th hour into a heavy-handed parable about family values and the restoration of faith. There's nothing inherently wrong with such a shift, if deftly handled. Here it is not.

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