THE SIGNAL Movie Review
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
DVD released by Entertainment One
Directed by William Eubank
Written by Carlyle Eubank, William Eubank and David Frigerio
2014, 97 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 13th April 2015
Brenton Thwaites as Nic
Olivia Cooke as Hayley
Beau Knapp as Jonah
Laurence Fishburne as Damon
Eubank's sci-fi tale is blazing hot with fresh ideas and partially manages to weave its intergalactic dimensions together. The Signal is ultra-stylish sci-fi that has been injected with an antidote from Shane Carruth's (Primer, Upstream Colour) experimental filmography. Although Eubank's latest effort lacks narrative cohesion and is held back by some wooden dialogue, the ambitious end result continues the resurgence of the independent science-fiction scene with the likes of James Ward Byrkit's mind-boggling Coherence leading the charge. The human element is not entirely lost here but there's no shying away from the fact that this is style over substance. David Lanzenberg's classy cinematography ensures The Signal is a spellbinding visual feast, pregnant with science fiction iconography that lives long in the memory.
The Signal's opening hour is cloaked in mystery and builds a burning sense of intrigue. A trio of tech nerds are taunted by an anonymous hacker and set out on a quest deep into the heart of Nevada to uncover the true identity of their tormentor. What begins as a typical American road trip soon descends into a futuristic episode from The X-Files. Adventurous protagonist Nic (Brenton Thwaites) is accompanied by friends Jonah (Beau Knapp) and Haley (Olivia Cooke) to a suburban home before a blackout jolts life into proceedings.
The transition from the mundane to the nightmarish is strikingly sudden, the tonal shift introducing the menacing figure of Laurence Fishburne in a white hazmat suit. Nic awakens seemingly held captive in an underground quarantined zone, as though he himself is a bio-chemical hazard and a threat to the safety of others. The sequences in which Fishburne coldly interrogates the disoriented Nic are fraught with real tension. Just where are they? Why is he being held prisoner? These questions are amplified by the cabalistic demeanour of Fishburne. It’s in these moments that Eubank's film excels and marches in a panoply of enigma.
Nic's predicament casts a dark cloud over him that lashes down a storm of uncertainty. As attentions turn toward plotting a potential escape, the visual effects come to the fore. A scintillating desert wasteland sequence features a mix of superhuman agility, explosions and a twist finale that beggars belief. It’s a real treat to gawk over but feels like a bolt out of the blue rather than a natural conclusion. Eubank's cosmic ideas play out like a live-action brainstorm, overflowing with creativity but lacking the skeleton to hold them in place.