Starring: Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
RRP 19.99
Certificate: 12
Available now

Widower and lapsed priest Graham Hess is struggling to raise his two children, with the help of his brother Merrill. One night he discovers that an elaborate geometrical pattern has been created in his cornfield. It is just one of hundreds that have appeared all over the world. But soon far stranger and scarier events test his family's resolve...

It would appear that Bruce Willis was unavailable to appear in M Night Shyamalan's third enigmatic picture. One can easily imagine Willis playing the luckless Graham Hess. This is no criticism of Mel Gibson, though, who gives an often incredibly moving performance.

Other Shyamalan standbys remain in place. These include an acting appearance by the writer/director himself. His cameos have grown progressively larger with each movie, and here we see him in his most significant role to date in terms of its importance to the movie's plot.

As with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the film concludes with the (unfortunately now fully anticipated) obligatory twist. Shyamalan has become a victim of his own success, and faces a no-win situation: he must either include a major twist in each movie, thus inviting criticism for becoming predictable, or risk disappointing his expectant audience. Once again, the revelation is illustrated by recaps from earlier scenes, in order to demonstrate just how clever his scriptwriting is. But, although evocative in its own way, the conclusion isn't as effective as that of either of his previous movies.

One factor that has maintained its standards is the quality of acting that the director coaxes from his child stars, in this instance Rory Culkin as Morgan Hess and Abigail Breslin as his little sister, Bo. Breslin is particularly charming, providing many of the movie's funniest moments as the eccentric little girl who is extremely particular about the quality of water she drinks.

Yes, that's right - although there are a fair few jump-out-of-your-seat scary and lump-in-the-throat poignant moments, this film also contains a rich vein of humour. To his credit, Shyamalan deftly mingles a wide spectrum of moods, swinging effortlessly from Graham's bitter loss of faith to scenes of hilarity as Merrill (Joaquin Gladiator Phoenix), Morgan and Bo fall prey to UFO paranoia. Graham generates a few laughs too - for example, when he makes a feeble attempt at impersonating a police officer.

Signs works very well as long as it is telling a heart-warming tale of family interaction. However, the extra-terrestrial aspects of the plot are rather less convincing. We see very little in the way of ETs, which certainly helps to generate terror and suspense. This is old-style movie-making, with scary sounds proving far more frightening than in-your-face gore or violence. However, from the sketchy snippets we observe, the mysterious invaders might as well as have been any old variety of mythical monster. And, without giving too much away, the aliens' decision to visit Earth in the first place lacks common sense.

Don't get me wrong - Signs is an entertaining movie. But it's no Sixth Sense. As I said earlier, Shyamalan is a victim of his own success. From a lesser director, this film might have been considered a classic.

More than an hour of additional behind-the-scenes features take us through the production process from script to screen, including a multi-angle multi-audio presentation of the excellent "knife and pantry" scene. Five deleted scenes include a particularly scary one involving an alien in the attic. Finally, Shyamalan presents an excerpt from his first ever monster movie, recorded using a video camera. This is so amusing, I wish I could have seen more!

Despite my reservations, the signs are that this disc is well worth picking up.

Richard McGinlay

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