Monday, July 13, 2015

The Signal

Directed by William Eubank.
2014. Rated PG-13, 97 minutes.
Brenton Thwaites
Laurence Fishburne
Olivia Cooke
Beau Knapp
Lin Shaye

When a mysterious hacker known as Nomad infiltrates the servers of MIT, students Nic (Thwaites) and Jonah (Knapp) take the blame. Somehow, they don’t get expelled. When the same person hacks into their personal computers, they decide it’s go time and manage to get an address for this punk. It just so happens to be not too far out of their way. Their way is a trip to drop Nic’s girlfriend Haley (Cooke) off somewhere for something obviously not important enough to be a higher priority than chasing down a hacker. A detour is made and the three of them wind up at some abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere, late at night, looking for this guy. Since MIT students are not any better at decision making than an average teenage girl in a horror flick, they get out of the car and go searching around the place. Next thing you know, something happens, and fade to black. When we fade back in, we see Nic waking up in some super-secret government installation. He’s being interrogated by a cryptic speaking Dr. Damon (Fishburne) who keeps asking him about aliens and other craziness. It appears, Nic and Jonah have “made contact.” However, we only see Nic. Him trying to figure out the wheres, whys, and hows of his captivity ensues.

Though set up like a horror movie, what we have is a deliberately paced sci-fi drama. Much of the film’s second act consists of Nic and Damon sitting at either end of a long table in a sterile white room psychoanalyzing one another. While Damon is trying to get as much information as possible about Nic, Nic is attempting to figure a way out of this place. Between their spirited conversations we see Nic in his room plotting his getaway. He even talks to Jonah, who remains unseen, through the vent they share. Despite the lack of action, this is fascinating stuff. We’re drawn into trying to guess what’s going on. We think we’ve got a pretty good idea, but aren’t quite sure. Like Nic, we intently look for more clues as things progress. Two very good, but contrasting performances help keeps up intrigued. Thwaites’ excitable desperation and confusion juxtaposed with Laurence Fishburne’s cold stoicism keeps their exchanges lively.

As there must be in a movie such as this, there is an eventual attempt at escape. This makes up the entire third act and is not merely a stretch of action. It uses the setting, the re-injection of characters from the beginning, and the injection of new characters to deepen the mystery. There is action, and thankfully, it feels like an organic development of the plot rather than a gratuitous conclusion there just to give audiences an exciting conclusion. The shortcoming is that that the special fx aren’t always the best. They aren’t terrible, but clearly a budgetary casualty. However, they still manage to get the point across. In any case, they lead to an interesting, if downbeat, ending.

Though it is a bit of a downer, it is not to the detriment of the movie. It gives us something to ponder and discuss. For all its talk about aliens, The Signal is more about technology and our reliance upon it. Is this a good or bad thing? When are we headed as a society because of it? Sure, the subject has been broached by plenty of movies before now, but this is unique enough to feel like a somewhat fresh take on the matter. If we wish to discuss aliens, we can certainly do this, as well. Leading up to that finale, we get a movie that is a slow burn, for sure, but one that effectively draws us in. We become fully vested in the fate of our hero. This is what keeps us interested enough to make it to that ending. When we get there, we get a film that is a very pleasant surprise and wisely refuses to tell us how we’re supposed to feel about what happens.


  1. I'm going to check this out, Dell. Sounds interesting for sure.

    And you can never go wrong with Morpheus, can you?

    1. How calm Fishburne is in this one kinda reminds you of Morpheus. It's a bit weird in that sense. I enjoyed it, though.

  2. Glad to hear this is a decent flick. I really wanted to check it out as I LOVE Fishburne, but not sure about the kid in this flick. Intriguing concept though, so I might give it a rent now.

    1. The kid is good, here. He was terrible in Oculus, much better, here.

  3. Yes, yes yes. Loved this film, and this review encapsulates it well. Nice job, my friend. I think the ending of the film is its strongest selling point, although obviously we don't want to spoil it, and I liked the "open ended" nature of it all. Great stuff.

    1. Thanks. That open-endedness is what makes it.

  4. I just wanted to let you know I ready this post again just now.

    And regret nothing.

    I gotta check this one out. Still!