CATEGORIES Horror, Sundance, Distribution, Fan Rant, Movie News, Sundance Film Festival, CinematicalThirteen months ago, at a midnight screening at the Sundance Film Festival, Scott Weinberg and I saw a new horror film called The Signal. We loved it. We were sitting next to some guys from Ain't It Cool News. They loved it, too. Scott wrote a review for Cinematical; I wrote one elsewhere (I wasn't on the Cinematical team yet); the AICN guys raved about it on their site. If I can presume to summarize all our feelings, they were: Wow. This is a really, really good horror flick.
Magnolia Pictures bought the distribution rights and finally released it last weekend. Weinberg reminded us about it the day before, having already shown us the trailer. We were glad it was finally seeing the light of day.
And then nobody watched it.
According to Box Office Mojo, The Signal played on 160 screens last weekend and grossed only $144,836, or $905 per screen. If you don't follow box office numbers, I'll just tell you: $905 is awful for an opening weekend. I Am Legend, playing on the same number of screens, grossed more than The Signal last weekend -- and it's been out for 2 1/2 months!
So why didn't people see it? I think the trailers and TV commercials made it look like just another generic (i.e., bad) horror flick about zombies or murderers or whatever. The true horror fans -- the ones who are SICK of generic (i.e., bad) horror flicks -- were probably turned off by those ads, thinking this was more of the same. The sad irony is that those people would LOVE The Signal, if they'd been given any reason to see it.
The limited release plan relies on promising ticket sales and positive word-of-mouth to keep the film alive as it expands to more cities. (It's also seldom effective for horror films, which tend to thrive on mass marketing over niche marketing.) But at the rate we're going, that's not gonna happen. New movies are usually guaranteed to play for two weeks before theaters drop them. That means you have another nine days or so to see The Signal, boost its numbers, and keep it in circulation.
Otherwise, what'll happen is, it will disappear from theaters and come out on DVD in a few months -- at which point you'll rent it, watch it, and say, "Damn, why didn't I watch this on the big screen?" So see it now and spare yourself the regret, OK? Even if you don't love it, I can almost guarantee you'll agree it's better than 90% of the "horror" films released in the last year.