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The Signal Review: Unoriginal Summer Sci-Fi

Road movie, sci-fi, action, and horror add up to a whole lot of nothing. William Eubank’s indie, The Signal, has a lot of potential, but fails to generate any interest in a boring, and poorly plotted film. the-signal-2014-01 Nic, Haley, and Jonah are buddies driving through the Great American desert. Nic and Jonah are two bright MIT students. Haley, who is dating Nic, is about to go to CalTech for a year. The roadtrip is an opportunity for the friends to hang out before Haley leaves. After a day of fun, a night at the hotel turns into cyber-sleuthing when a hacker contacts them. Nomad, as he is known, hacked into MIT servers and almost got Nic and Jonah expelled. Now Nomad has made contact again with nonsensical texts and emails. The boys track his IP signals to a remote location and decide to find him. Haley objects, but after Nic immaturely dumps her to pre-empt any future heartbreak, she becomes nothing more than your typical Damsel-in-Distress plot device. Nic and Jonah arrive later that day at a decrepit house off a dirt path. With a camera in hand, they explore the house á la found-footage horror films. They find nothing, but outside Haley is attacked by a mysterious entity, followed by Nic and Jonah. Next thing you know, Nic awakens in a sterile facility with Laurence Fishburne as his captor. screen-shot-2014-03-19-at-10-36-09-pm From here on out, The Signal continually fails to do anything of substance on a narrative level. Writers Carlyle and William Eubank sacrifice story and character development in favor of a self-gratifying twist-ending that is not much of a surprise or a twist. The film also does not make a lick of sense. Now, that’s not a reliable marker on whether a movie is good or bad. A lot of Gravity, makes no sense whatsoever. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has many qualms with the film’s physics. But it’s still a good film because it creates its own logic and structure, and it sticks by it. The Signal has none of that. The movie jumps from one genre cliché to the next with no discernible method. The Eubanks attempt to tell a story but I am unsure if it’s one they’re even interested in telling. There are plot holes left and right. The premise is shaky at best. The characters never succeed at becoming anything other than loosely sketched tropes. The Signal is edited in such a way that it’s clear a lot more story was left on the cutting room floor. Director, William Eubank, drops in a few too many overwrought flashbacks to try to fluff the film with backstory and poignancy. Instead it feels superfluous and manipulative. The acting is just fine. It gets the job done but the young actors, Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, and Beau Knapp, are not engaging enough to buoy the film. The lone recognizable face in the film, Fishburne is adequate. However, the script once again falls short. It gives absolutely nothing to him. It’s a shame to see Fishburne’s acting chops reduced to a glorified casting stunt. the-signal-sundance The only thing The Signal has going for is it’s visuals. I can see action junkies and some moviegoers enjoying the film. It is very well shot with nice compositions and colors. Director William Eubank is an experienced cinematographer, so it’s no surprise that he’s able to create a good-looking film. As a director, I am excited to see what he can do in the future. As for The Signal, it looks like a pretty hodge-podge of other director’s trademarks. The monochrome testing facility is a riff on Kubrick. Chase scenes are reminiscent of Michael Bay. Some Zack Snyder-esque slow motion kicks in for the film’s climactic action set-pieces. One flashback borders on pedestrian Terrence Malick. It all looks nice. It really does. The images are sharp and color corrected to look like hip Instagram filters. The thing is none of it is innovative. It lacks originality. The Signal is exactly what I would expect from a cinematographer- visually pleasing but not much else. I hope that William Eubank finds his voice, as a filmmaker and a screenwriter. If The Signal is not great, at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Rating
2.0
Pros
  • Good visuals
Cons
  • Poor Screenplay
  • Misuse of great talent
  • Unoriginal
  • I cajoled my poor mother into watching The Signal, so she demanded she get a special nod. Her one-word review: "Crap."

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I'm a passionate cinephile who prefers the dark interiors of the movieplexes to the beautiful outdoors. You can find me with a grin and a bucket of popcorn at the movies or here in our Movies section!

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