Directed by William Eubank
Starring Brenton Thwaites, Beau Knapp, Olivia Cooke, Laurence Fishburne
Science fiction can be a broad term when it comes to movies. Last year, there was great debate over whether or not Gravity was really just a drama set in space or a piece of Star Wars-ian cinema. There's definitely great science fiction and there's cheesy science fiction (which really can apply to any genre). The Signal is caught in between.
Directed by William Eubank (whose first major film was the experimental Angels & Airwaves' film Love), The Signal follows a group of MIT students caught in a crossfire with a mysterious computer hacker going by the name of NOMAD. Nic (Brenton Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) convince their travel buddy, and Nic's girlfriend, Haley (Olivia Cooke), to try and track down this online pest during their cross-country drive. When they show up to a rundown lot in the middle of nowhere Nevada, things go a little crazy. Nic wakes up in a white, lab-like room. He's questioned by a protective-suited man (Laurence Fishburne) and details of what happened and what's going on are thinly delivered. In what feels like a conspiracy, Nic tries as hard as ever to get out, saving himself and his friends.
As a sci-fi thriller, all of the pieces are here: eery characters, visually enticing images, creepy sounds, clever twists. It's kind of like Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch teamed up to shoot an Apple commercial. (Too bad Kubrick is dead because I'd like to see that!) Despite having all of the right elements, Eubank shows a few signs of disconnect throughout the story. There are very smart moments, but the few weak moments shine a little too brightly to completely ignore. Lucky for him, he's grouped together a pretty stellar cast. Thwaites is the ideal leading man. He's tough, but understanding and loyal. Fishburne is a good kind of creepy, but overdoes a few of his "important" lines.
When movies like The Signal are made, there's usually some type of intended metaphor or commentary attached. Sometimes those are easily understood and other times, like with Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, people will end up studying it forever. The Signal has a few great points to make in regards to how you approach life. I found Nic's constant battle between what he thinks is going on to what he is being told is going on to be similar to our own internal battle in times of stress and anxiety. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I do appreciate a movie that leaves you thinking even after the final scene (even if, like in this case, the final scene is a little cheesy).
The Signal is one in a long line of high-concept indie films to make the scene lately and it does its job pretty well. It's entertaining. It's creepy. It'll keep you on the edge of your seat. It's the little brother to the bigger-budgeted sci-fi films we've seen in the past year or so. It's visually stunning and cohesive. It's got an interesting twist Definitely give it a chance. You'll probably be surprised.
Runtime: 97 minutes