CATEGORIES Horror, Independent, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Sundance, Theatrical Reviews, Cinematical Indie, Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Cinematical
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.)