Synopsis: Three college students on a road trip across the Southwest experience a detour: the tracking of a computer genius who has already hacked into MIT and exposed security faults. The trio find themselves drawn to an isolated area. Suddenly everything goes dark. When one of the students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites of The Giver and Maleficent), regains consciousness, he is in a waking nightmare…
Release Date: June 13, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Thriller
Science fiction is one of those genres that brings out the creativity in filmmakers, especially when the budgets are small. Thanks to movies like The Last Days on Mars and Europa Report, it has been proven that science fiction does not need massive Hollywood money to be effective; it only needs a good idea and the talent to back it up. The latest proof of this phenomenon comes to us via The Signal.
The Signal is the story of a young man named Nic (Brenton Thwaites from Oculus) who, along with his best friend, Jonah (Super 8‘s Beau Knapp), is driving his girlfriend, Haley (Olivia Cooke from The Quiet Ones), across the country to drop her off at school in California. Nic and Jonah are a pair of computer hackers who are engaged in a virtual war with a cyber-bully named Nomad who torments them via text and email. Through a quick analysis of Nomad’s tech trail, Nic and Jonah figure out that he is somewhere in Nevada, and they will be driving right past his location. The trio takes a detour to surprise Nomad, and they end up at a dilapidated and deserted house where they all mysteriously lose consciousness. When Nic wakes up, he is in a hospital-like compound, surrounded by people in HazMat suits. He is introduced to Dr. Damon (Contagion‘s Laurence Fishburne), who reveals that the signals that Nic and Jonah have been receiving from Nomad have originated from an extra-terrestrial source, and that the kids have made contact with aliens. Scared and confused, Nic just wants to escape with Haley and Jonah, but Damon and his goons are willing to go to great lengths to keep the trio captive.
Coming from the mind of director William Eubank, The Signal functions as both a science fiction thriller and a human interest story. The screenplay, which Eubank wrote along with his brother, Carlyle, and his writing partner, David Frigerio, puts ordinary characters into extraordinary situations with gripping results. It’s a bit rougher than most Hollywood sci-fi operas, but slicker than most independent cinema, giving the film an artsy-yet-straight vibe. The story unfolds slowly and deliberately, but never ploddingly, giving the illusion that it is taking the viewer through a complex maze with no end in sight. There are twists around every corner, but they only lead to more twists.
Technically, The Signal is a very well-made film. It’s beautifully shot, sounds great, and the actors display a comfortable chemistry that makes them function more like an ensemble rather than as individuals. Narrative-wise, The Signal is a bit harder to pin down; it tells a cohesive story, but hints at a larger mythology than that which appears onscreen. For fans of shows like “Lost” or “The Twilight Zone,” it’s up the same alley. For those who like their movies to be gift-wrapped and tied with a bow, leaving nothing to the imagination of the viewer, it will frustrate. There are many unanswered questions, and every revelation and surprise throughout the story only leads to more questions. By the end, the audience is begging for answers, and they’ll get some, but they won’t get others. Nothing is spoon-fed. It’s a fun ride, just so long as the viewer is open to filling in a few of the holes for themselves. For the science fiction fan who doesn’t mind doing a little work, The Signal is a good way to spend ninety minutes.
Although William Eubank is a cinematographer himself and has shot all of his work up until this point, he turns the camera over to director of photography David Lanzenberg (Celeste & Jesse Forever) for The Signal. The film is in good hands. Working together, Eubank and Lanzenberg craft a movie that is both gritty and crisp, showing every little detail with stunning clarity, even when the details themselves are flawed. The film is full of tight shots because, let’s face it, when Laurence Fishburne is in your film, you want his face to take up as much of the screen as possible. The Signal alternates between extreme close-ups of the actors to sweeping shots of the landscape, and it accomplishes both with style and flair. For a science fiction film, The Signal looks remarkably realistic.
While The Signal will never be mistaken for an Amblin or Dreamworks movie, it is still a pretty lightweight film about aliens. There are a handful of frightening sequences, the most effective being the found footage-esque scene where Nic and Jonah first believe that they have found Nomad in the abandoned house, but most of the film is more E.T. than Alien. It’s scarier when taken as a sum of its parts rather than dissected scene by scene, as the whole thing is just kind of subliminally disturbing and disorienting. For example, in one tense and suspenseful sequence, Nic is moving down a hallway in a wheelchair, towing a hospital gurney onto which Haley is strapped behind him, narrowly avoiding faceless HazMat-suited enemies while wheeling past rooms in which blood and gore are being rinsed from the floors. The audience doesn’t know for sure what will happen to Nic and Haley if they are caught, but the sight of the carnage being cleaned is enough to make them not want to find out. The Signal is full of moments like that, just a ton of mysteries that are best left unsolved. Nothing in The Signal is going to make the viewer jump out of his or her seat, but there are more than enough ideas to keep the brain working overtime.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): William Eubank
- Screenwriter(s): William EubankDavid FrigerioCarlyle Eubank
- Cast: Brenton Thwaites (Nic)Olivia Cooke (Haley)Beau Knapp (Jonah) Laurence Fishburne (Damon)
- Editor(s): Brian Berdan
- Cinematographer: David Lanzenberg
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Nima Fakhrara
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA