Within less than five minutes of The Signal, you already care about the main characters. They're adulterers, but they're obviously in love, which makes everything that follows a lot more engaging. It's a character-based (and very well-acted) science fiction horror flick that's got a solid sense of humor, an admirable air of dread and a 50-ton vat of ultra-gooey gore: Cool. Admirable enough for simply being a true treat of a genre flick, The Signal is also noteworthy for how it was made. Although it's not an anthology film, The Signal is the work of three different directors: David Bruckner for Act (or "Transmission") One, Jacob Gentry for part two and Dan Bush for the final third. Whether or not this unique approach is actually a good (or necessary) thing is up to you, but I can tell you this: The Signal is one viciously fun little genre flick.
The plot is pretty darn simple: All of the radios and televisions in the mysterious city of Terminus are transmitting a hypnotic signal (imagine loud static combined with a broken lava lamp) that turns those who see/hear it into, well, raving homicidal lunatics. And wedged into this wonderfully bleak misadventure is a story about a few characters you actually care about -- and that really does help a whole lot.
The love story trapped within The Signal's ultra-violent insanity is also a pretty simple one: Pretty young Mya (Anessa Ramsey) is cheating on her rotten husband Lewis (A.J. Bowen) with lovestruck nice-guy Ben (Justin Welborn) -- and then all holy hell breaks loose. A few colorful survivors manage to keep the action moving along, although most of 'em end up as killers and/or victims in fairly short order. It's all quite fast-paced, disturbing and slick. Each director seems intent on delivering a harsh surprise or two. ...
But then there's that sense of humor. It shows up mainly in Gentry's section, but the dark-hued wit does wonders for a story that could have been just another tale of grim and gritty world-ending terror. (Plus, section two is where a post-apocalypse nice guy named Clark shows up, and he's played by a seriously funny actor called Scott Poythress.) As a matter of fact (and when I say "fact" I mean "opinion") the whole of the new-name cast is quite surprisingly good, and that -- combined with the tight and twisted screenplay -- really elevates The Signal beyond anything I was honestly expecting from the flick.
Look, I'd probably enjoy just about anything that deals with the apocalypse in quick and vicious fashion, but The Signal-makers up the ante by getting even the little stuff right; sound design, special effects, editing and character development seem just as important to the trio as shock value gags and nasty bouts of ultra-violence. Whether or not The Signal will go on to earn a half-decent "cult following" is anybody's guess, but it sure wouldn't surprise me if my fellow horror geeks decided to embrace this one quite enthusiastically.
(And I have it from the filmmakers themselves: The Signal was under construction well before Stephen King's Cell was published, so any similarities, plot-wise, are purely coincidental ... plus, c'mon, the idea that "over-reliance on technology could forever corrupt mankind" isn't all that big a stretch these days.)