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Friday, August 22, 2014

The Signal



The Signal
2014
William Eubank

Two would-be hackers, Nic (Brenton Thwaites), and his friend Jonah (Beau Knapp) are traveling with their friend, Haley (Olivia Cooke). They boys are using the trip as an opportunity to track down a rival hacker who goes by the name of Nomad. They trace Nomad’s location to an abandoned shack in the middle of the desert. Something happens, and Nic wakes up alone in a laboratory.  He’s hurt, pumped full of drugs and repeatedly questioned by a man in a bio-hazard suit named Damon, (Laurence Fishburne). Nic discovers whatever happened in the desert altered his body, and he has to find his friends and escape before it’s too late.

At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like the trio at the center of the film. Nic and Jonah have an easy chemistry that I found myself warming up to. The weakest character is Haley. She is little more than the object of Nic’s affection and eventual damsel-in-distress. The film could have left her character out of the story and it would have had little impact on the narrative.

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The big reveal in The Signal is a great moment of shock and confusion. Nic and the viewer are both exposed to Nic’s body having suffered a strange transformation. The camera lingers on what's happened leaving the viewer to wonder exactly what they are looking it. It’s an effective moment of body horror, and it’s a pity the film doesn’t continue to explore it.  Nic (and later, Jonah’s) new limbs are more like superpowers than monstrous alien things. We’ve seen superheroes. The world is drowning in superheroes, right now. We need some good old-fashioned body horror. Haley definitely gets shortchanged in this scenario. There is never an explanation of how she was changed. She sports a port or some kind of plate on her back, but she never gets a hero moment to show off like the boys do.

There is some beautiful imagery throughout The Signal. Eubank has an eye for beauty in both the desert landscape and cold clinical whiteness of the laboratories. Even his action scenes deliver striking composition and flow. He also achieved the nigh impossible by making a sequence of a character running super fast not look ridiculous.

My face after the final plot twist.
The end of The Signal attempts to put a twist on everything that has happened before. All it really does is clutter up an already questionable plot even further. It causes Damon’s entire presence as the steady, cold antagonist to make little sense at all. It also undermines the relevance of the entire cast of secondary characters. It is an unnecessary cap to everything that has happened prior.

The Signal is built on a flawed narrative, but it has an intriguing central mystery. It has some astounding visuals, made all the more impressive for being created on such a small budget. I would love to see a follow-up that trades the superheroics of the third act for a slower burn and more horror.

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