Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Thematic Elements, Violence and Language
Directed by: William Eubank
Written by: Carlyle Eubank, David Frigerio & William Eubank
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Lin Shaye & Sarah Clarke
I don’t usually start of a review with a crass statement right out of the gate, but the gloves are off on THE SIGNAL. Cool visuals mean nothing if a storyline is incoherent dogshit. That’s simply the case with this derivative, incoherent mess of a movie. Some of the effects are indeed professional looking. The movie stands out in a small stretch when it appears to be taking a thought-provoking minimalist less-is-more creepy approach. The film doesn’t focus on these ideas for too long though. Everything overloads into a frustrating experience that cares more about showing off what director William Eubank can do with a camera and less on telling a cohesive narrative to pack all of this junk into. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. In no other movie is this more clear than THE SIGNAL.
Nic, Haley, and Jonah are three hackers traveling across the country. Upon receiving mysterious messages from a rival hacker (who had given them some trouble in the past), the trio takes a detour to confront the seemingly brilliant computer whiz with the gifted ability of hacking into any computer or camera around. Unfortunately, they’ve just walked headfirst into a nightmare as they run into a mysterious force. Upon waking up from this encounter, the three find themselves confined in a facility populated by scientists in biohazard suits. I won’t go any farther, because some people will still venture into this film, in spite of my dire warning. Even if I wanted to deconstruct the plot properly that is practically impossible due to the sheer convoluted nature that works up to a semi-predictable final revelation that felt like a giant middle finger to the audience.
THE SIGNAL tries to be philosophical and deep. The end result winds up being a pretentious jumbled storyline. It has an aura of someone throwing random scenes in front of the camera, yelling “Look what I can do!” This is the kind of science-fiction mess that there isn’t a single excuse for. This is one crap-fest of a movie. It’s hard to maintain a dignified tone in this review, because this movie frankly pissed me off. I haven’t been this angry in paying to see a bad movie in theaters since I saw BRANDED back in 2012. Words can barely do justice to how infuriating THE SIGNAL is. This film reeks of someone playing around with some effects on camera and then peddling it to the masses.
Some effects do admittedly look cool and others feel very cheap. There’s a severe overuse of slow motion. This is especially demonstrated in a laughably bad out-of-place action sequence. None of the characters are worth caring about either. Brenton Thwaites and Olivia Cooke can be good in the right roles, but there’s nothing here but bland cardboard cut-outs that resemble silhouettes of people. Lin Shaye shows up in a brief would-be eerie role that comes off as more of a wacky cartoon character (she generated plenty of laughs in my theater). Laurence Fishburne is a wooden scientist donning a biohazard suit. There’s also one moment regarding his character that strongly reminded me of TROLL 2 (something that should never happen in any movie hitting the big screen). In place of character development, the viewer is given quick montages of flashbacks involving Thwaites, Cooke, and Knapp that are inserted at the most inopportune times. A few of these came in during action montages or would-be crucial scenes. The resulting effect also generated some unintentional laughs among the audience in my theater.
An overly familiar ending echoes notable science fiction films from the late-90’s. To give specifics would most definitely be going into heavy spoiler territory, but it’s safe to say that you’ve probably seen this kind of ending in far better movies before this steaming pile came along. The conclusion renders some scenes entirely pointless, which makes one wonder why they even bothered to include them to begin with. It’s messy film with some pretty effects supporting by wooden acting and a lame script. THE SIGNAL comes off as bad any way you slice it.
Some posters for THE SIGNAL state “R U Agitated?” This message is also seen a few times in the beginning of the film and ultimately serves as a horrific bit of foreshadowing for the despair the viewer is plunged into. The emotional pain isn’t brought on by watching a trippy movie with bleak messages or viewing good characters go through horrible things. It comes from the devastation of realizing that you plopped down hard-earned money to sit through this film and that you’ll never get your valuable time back. I originally had an opportunity to see THE SIGNAL at Sundance and after seeing the huge release it was getting, I was kicking myself for skipping out on it. I’m glad I didn’t see it at the festival. Had I seen this flick at Sundance and waited in the cold for a solid hour to get into the theater, then I would have probably been even angrier. As it stands, seeing it as a matinee, the word “agitated” doesn’t even begin to cover the disdain I feel for this complete and utter failure of a film. Avoid this SIGNAL as it will do far more than just leave you agitated…