(A side note before we get started. The first three minutes of the film are abysmal, and are in no way an accurate representation of the film’s overall quality.)
The Signal is a independent visceral-horror/sci fi flick with a splash of dark comedy. The film is the brainchild of three writer/directors: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry, and is produced by Alexander A. Motlagh. The premiss of the film unfolds in a city called Terminus where all televisions, cell phones, and even the radio broadcast a mysterious “signal” causing the exposed to become homicidal. They suffer hallucinations, confusion, and paranoia until becoming enraged with a complete lack of a moral compass. The Signal is told in three parts, or transmission, that continue the same storyline. Each transmission is told from the perspective of one of the main characters, and has a different director. This is rather confusing for the viewer upon the first screening, due to the fact that there is no real noticeable change when going from one character’s perspective to the other. They do however include a screen with the name of that transmission (segment), even with that the directors’ intentions were lost to this reviewer on the initial play through. The overall look of the film remains constant with a grainy seventies vibe to it. On the contrary the mood of the Signal changes drastically from transmission to transmission This I’m sure was a conscious decision made by the directors’ to showcase their individual style, and vision for the film. All things considered this is not necessarily a bad thing for this is one of they ways the films achieves it singularity in a oversaturated genre.
Mya departing the blood splattered corridors of her apartment building,and heading towards her future that awaits at terminal therenteen. Unfortunately for her its never that easy!
Transmission One -Crazy In Love is directed by David Bruckner, and presented through Mya’s perspective (played by Anessa Ramsey). Mya is a woman torn between the man she loves Ben (Justin Welborn), and her marital obligation to her obsessive husband Lewis (AJ Bowen). We are introduced to Mya at Ben’s flat. After a brief conversation between the two. Mya travels to her apartment where her jealous husband and his friends are attempting to watch a ballgame. During the trip Mya observes people behaving peculiarly, and growing increasingly aggressive towards one another. This trend continues in her home as well. Violence erupts between her husband lewis and his guest. Trying to leave she backs out her door, and trips over a body in the hallway.
The film turns ultra violent, and dark. Screams fill the dark dengie corridors, homicidal tenants roam the halls fulfilling a murderous need, and the affecteds’ sheer unpredictability make them truly a unsettling force. David Bruckner does an excellent job of projecting a claustrophobic tension in the dark. The building tenants are exterminating each other. Nowhere is safe, around every corner possibly awaits a violent death. Mya is trapped! Her isolation grows. Everyone she meets could be affected by the signal. Her mind focuses on one thought, and she becomes determined to leave. Putting on a pair of headphones to drown out the surrounding carnage. She heads for the exit, but will her deranged neighbors ruin her plan?
From left to right Anna (Cheri Christian), Lewis (AJ Bowen), Clark (Scott Poythress)
Transmission two -The Jealousy Monster is directed by Jacob Gentry, and is presented through Lewis’s perspective. Lewis is Mya’s jealous husband who has been exposed to the signal, and is determined to find his wife for better or worse. This transmission takes place in a well lit first story apartment, and starts of with Anna (Cheri Christian) planning a new years eve party with her deceased husband. A knock on the front door introduces you to Clark the landlord (Scott Poythress). Clark is attempting to borrow a hacksaw, and some plastic garbage bags to clean up a “mess” he made in the apartments storeroom. A few moments later Clark realizes that unfortunately Anna is suffering some form of psychotic break, due to the fact that she is still preparing for the new years party, with her dead husband propped upright at the kitchen table. A final knock, and through a ruse, enters Lewis thus completing our comedic trio. Thats right I said “comedic trio”.
Jacob Gentry directorial entry in The Signal feels in direct contrast to the first transmission with its well lit rooms and up beat cast. The almost laugh out loud funny exchanges, between the characters as they deal with the situations presented to them is the best use of dark comedy this reviewer has seen since “Shaun of the Dead”. As the scene continues to playout Lewis ,due to his hallucinations, realizes that he has had an incorrect interpretation of his newfound cohorts. Now with a clearer mind ,thanks to a better understanding of the signal, Lewis is more determined than ever to find his wife. What follows are some graphically violent scenes portraying a bludgeoning, and a rather brutal interrogation involving insecticide! By the end of the segment the viewer will be thrust face first into the realization that this is a horror movie, and Lewis is no longer laughing!
Ben (Justin Welborn) bloodied and confused begins his search for Mya in the devastated city of Terminus.
Transmission three -Escape From Terminus is directed by Dan Bush. This segment is set in Ben’s (Justin Welborn) perspective. We join Ben bloodied, beaten, and regaining consciousness in the back of a white work van. Ben slowly exits the vehicle labeled Denton’s pest control. Now standing in the middle of the street confused he pans around in an attempt to comprehend what has transpired. Ben notices a bloody handprint on the passenger-side-window. He places his hand over the dried blood, it matches. The events that have led him to his current situation come to him as flashbacks. Shaken he see a wrecked car through the van’s window. Ben stagers to it, looking inside his suspicions are confirmed. Its Mya’s car smashed into a large trash dumpster. Searching the crash site he notices a broad trail of blood leading away from the totaled vehicle, as if someone was drug from the wreckage. Ben begins putting together the pieces of carnage that will ultimately lead him to terminal thirteen, and in turn Mya; however, will a final confrontation with Lewis keep Ben from escaping Terminus at last?
Dan Bush’s directorial contribution to the film is a journey through the aftermath the signal inflicted on Terminus. Although most of the footage is indoors the director manages to make you feel this post-apocalyptic sense of isolation. He achieves this by showing only the tops of buildings and the rare shot of a street reveals a piece of newspaper blowing around a bloody body. You do not see any living people, except the main characters, until the bottom floor of the terminal. These individuals by definitions are still alive; however they are just randomly muttering to themselves while walking around oblivious to their surroundings. It seem the signal has left none unaffected, and this includes Ben unfortunately who suffers hallucinations through the remainder of the film. The intensity logically increases toward the climax, but due to the signals affect the character’s behavior may seem hard to process. Inturn if the audience is not paying attention the ending might confuse the viewer leaving them stunned; however, if your watching closely, a blink of an eye, and a single tear may allow you a small exhale of relief!
You might want to turn that off!
In the end I really like The Signal. It is flawed, yes it true; however, the flaws spring from how ambitious a project it truly is. The film has three different individuals with their own vision to portray, it was made for fifty thousand dollars, and shot in just thirteen days (according to wikipedia). The overall tone to the film is inconsistent, and the middle segment (although my favorite) might be too far a departure from what some would consider horror.The film also makes an halfhearted attempt at a social statement pertaining to the media’s ability to influence people wants and needs through its programming. That aspect of the film was just white noise for this reviewer. My biggest complaint about The Signal is how confusing it can be at times, but most of this can be remedied by a second screening. I don’t want it to seem like I’m being a little biased, or I’m just overlooking the films flaws. The point I am so diligently defending is these three writer/directors could of made good a gory movie that followed all the horror norms, and would’ve been just like the rest. Instead there took a good script, a interesting directing approach, and a meager budget. Juggled them all together, almost perfectly creating an abnormally original horror movie thats one of the best in a decade. It is rather an impressive feat. After all if you walk on water, maybe I shouldn’t give you shit, just because you got your sneakers wet!
This movie is available for Netflix instant streaming here.
Or you can watch the trailer here.