Saturday, November 25, 2017

Movie Reviews: The Signal

The Signal
directed by William Eubank
This low budget older film is a science-fiction thriller that in the same way as the original The Matrix film asks what it means to be human. It's relatively light on action/violence so it might be worthwhile for those people who prefer films without a lot of explicit carnage. There is some violence here of course, but most of it is either implied or cut away from at the last minute. One problem with the film is that because most of it takes place in only a few rooms it really would have worked better as a "Twilight Zone" or "Tales From The Crypt" episode. The Signal occasionally felt like the story was being stretched to meet a certain running time. I can't say that I saw the ending of the film coming from a mile away but probably more attentive people will. I thought the creators of The Matrix probably should have called it a day after the first movie. The Signal has room for a sequel. I would like to know what happens next, but only if the next chapter installment moves more quickly. 

If you are the sort of person who demands that a film be self-explanatory and complete in itself this may not be your cup of tea. There's a lot that isn't clear. And multiple viewings won't necessarily help. Some people will find this deep, challenging and impressive. Others will find it irritating and pretentious. I can't call it, but if you decide to watch this film know that all your questions won't be answered. Or maybe you are super intelligent and will find this film's answers obvious and silly. The film is good looking with pristine cinematography and colors. Of course it probably helps that as much of the film takes place in a medical facility of some sort, everything is shiny white. There's a detached, clinical feel to the film which is often used as counterpoint to the emotional volatility of the main characters.

Three friends from MIT , Nic (Brenton Thwaites), Jonah (Beau Knapp), and Haley (Olivia Cooke from Bates Motel) are taking a road trip to California. After some unpleasantness involving being set up by a rival hacker, the trio scarcely avoided being expelled from MIT. That close call was enough for Haley. She's going to another school. Her boyfriend Nic isn't. This is something that irritates Haley, because she is ready to take things to the next level. Nic isn't sure he's ready for that, either with Haley or anyone else for that matter. Nic lies to himself and to Haley by pointing out that since he has some sort of degenerative muscle condition which has atrophied and almost paralyzed his legs, Haley will be better off without him anyway. While they're in a hotel Nic and Jonah learn that their rival, a hacker known as Nomad, has discovered their location and is sending them the hacker equivalent of middle fingers and Bronx cheers. Well they may not be the roughest toughest dudes around but Nic and Jonah are still dudes. They aren't going to let Nomad get away with thinking he has outsmarted them. They go to MIT for goodness' sake. The friends track Nomad down to an abandoned Nevada house. But when they enter, no one is there. Nic and Jonah go outside when they hear Haley scream, only to see her disappear into a white light in the sky. The two men also disappear.

When Nic wakes up he's secured in an underground research facility.  Dr. Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne) explains that Nic encountered something that was alien to Earth. Dr. Damon has a lot of questions for Nic. But the Doctor won't answer very many of Nic's questions or explain what exactly happened to Nic's friends. Dr. Damon's baritone voiced aura of imperturbability and authority annoys and frightens Nic almost as much as the hazmat suits and the fact that Nic can't feel his legs. Nic soon discovers that Jonah is alive; the two men can talk through the air vent. Haley is alive as well. Nic starts to make plans for an escape.

And that's enough plot description I think. As mentioned, the film is deliberately vague about a lot of the big questions that most viewers would like to have addressed at some point in the story. YMMV on this. Famous Scream Queen and Detroit native Lin Shaye has a small role.

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