The Signal

The Signal (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

On their way to California to drop off Haley (Olivia Cooke), Nic (Brenton Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) are contacted by a hacker whose code name is Nomad. The two guys are able to track Nomad’s IP address in Nevada—which is a coincidence because they are just above hundred miles away. Soon, they come across a seemingly abandoned house and there is no sign of the man they wish to meet. While in the basement, Nic and Jonah hear Haley screaming from outside.

“The Signal,” written by Carlyle Eubank, David Frigerio and William Eubank, is a science fiction film that shows promise but ultimately does not deliver. The first half is unusually strong because the screenplay capitalizes on the viewers’ curiosity; details are presented like jigsaw puzzle pieces and it is up to us to try to make sense of whatever may be going on. The final thirty minutes, however, is a bore. Despite the noises, special, and visual effects, the picture fails to provide answers that are worthy of the rising action.

Its carefully calibrated pacing is a perfect fit for its mystery. A morbid curiosity is created as Nic sits in a white room on a wheelchair as he is questioned by the creepy Dr. Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne). There is talk about him being “extremely contagious” and yet he is never provided the details of the disease or, if it is a disease that is not fully understood, the symptoms one might expect. Nic finds numerical tattoos on his wrist. He is given exams like matching words with shapes. Nic is given surface information but not the details. This angers him and he wishes to break out of the research facility because there is a chance the whole thing could be a charade.

Director William Eubank knows how to frame faces, especially his lead. Because Nic does not trust anyone in the facility, Thwaites is required to communicate most of the time using his facial muscles. Thus, when the character is alone in a room, the camera tends to showcase the performer from the neck up. As a result, we wonder what might be going through Nic’s mind. How does he gain the upper hand knowing the fact that he is clearly valued? Is he plotting escape? Given that his body is compromised, how does he go on about rescuing Haley and Jonah?

Once the story begins to take place in a desert town, the picture loses curiosity and momentum. Although questions are still being raised—Why is everybody so strange? Why are the phone lines always down?—we get the feeling that it is about time we are provided answers… Not just any answers but ones that come across concrete. Alas, as expected, the answer is revealed in the final shot—which I found lazy and unimaginative.

Visually stylish, “The Signal” is likely to impress some. It is clear that some thought is actually put into it. But for those expecting that its potential will reach maximum capacity will be disappointed. Perhaps a rewrite or two might have turned this into a gem that may not be embraced by the mainstream but is valued by viewers seeking for something refreshing—even ten or twenty years from now.

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