M. Night Shyamalan is
quickly becoming one of our best suspense directors. Though his last two films have
not quite captured the zeitgeist chills of his breakthrough hit The Sixth Sense,
he has shown an almost unparalleled (in modern cinema, anyway) ability to unnerve an
audience. Shyamalan knows, as Hitchcock and Spielberg and so many others did before
him, that it is not what you see that is horrifying, it's what you don't see.
Using as a springboard to a drama the slightly silly premise of crop circles... which even Shyamalan acknowledges in the script have mostly been dismissed as hoaxes... he turns the
screws on the audience until they believe anything he tells them.
Mel Gibson is manfully
stoic -- and somewhat shut off from his emotions -- as a former Reverend
who lost his faith when his wife is the victim of a senseless tragedy.
He lives almost on retreat with his children and brother (Joaquin
Phoenix) in a sprawling Bucks County, Pennsylvania farm.
mysterious circles show up on their land the family is bombarded by
mysterious sounds and flashes of movement in the dark. At first
the family refuses to believe the possibilities, but then first the
kids, then Phoenix, and finally Gibson give in to their fear of the
unknown. A slowly-building sense of tension and dread reaches a
fever pitch as the film heads into its final scenes.
It's a shame... but probably inevitable... that after this great
build-up the eventual showdown between Gibson's family with the alien force is
pretty much an
anticlimax. Not so inevitable is the fact
that it's actually laughably bad -- but the ending really is terrible.
Still, just the fact that Shyamalan is thoughtful enough and
talented enough to be totally engaging before painting himself into a narrative corner
shows that he deserves a little slack to see what he comes up with next. (8/02)