M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) dishes up another almost-thriller (2002) carefully engineered to key the audience for a final twist. And once again he uses camera tricks—like distorting wide angles for medium shots—to create a weird, slightly off-kilter world. Mel Gibson is a minister who's left the church; now crop circles and creepy night visitors are disrupting his quiet farmer life. Are UFOs hovering overhead? Is God testing him? Can any contemporary filmmaker get away with the obvious symbolism of a minister who's lost his faith facing the ultimate test of it? Borrowing heavily from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Shyamalan tries to lighten his trademark gloomy tone—and almost kills the suspense he's working so hard to achieve. Individual sequences generate an eerie tension that's always deflated, creating a jarring stop-and-go rhythm, and the atmospheric trickery never strays beyond a lot of smoke and mirrors. PG-13, 120 min.
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