June 21, 2014

Movie Review: The Signal (2014)

When I first learned of The Signal, my first thought was somebody went a remade the 2007 film, The Signal. That idea makes no sense and was quickly discarded. It was born more out of two movies in a relatively short period of time bearing the same title. Then I saw the trailer and was intrigued, I wasn't sure what it was, but it looked to be right up my alley. Now, I have seen the film and I initially left thinking I really liked it, however, the more time that passes from my theater exiting, my estimation has dropped somewhat. I still like it and have no problem recommending it, however there are reservations now. Basically, watch and enjoy, but recognize the flaws that surround it.

The movie was co-written and directed by William Eubanks, a cinematographer making the switch to directors chair. The finished product has a certain slickness to it and a distinct air of mystery surrounding it. The Signal is built on an interesting concept, it involves, it confounds, and it intrigues. On the other side, it also fails to deliver any real character or provide enough material to really connect the dots. It is as good as it is aggravating.

As the movie opens, we pick up with Nic (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus), his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel), and best friend Jonah (Beau Knapp, Super 8). They are driving Haley cross country to go to school in California. Along the way we learn that the move is putting strain on Nic and Haley's relationship and they are reaching a crossroads. We also learn that Nic and Jonah had gotten into some trouble at their school, MIT, due to some hacker who calls himself Nomad, and he seems to be cyber stalking the two on their trip.

There is a solid build and we actually get a good idea about the state of Nic and Haley's relationship, even if we never get fully formed characters, the moments play out better than you would expect in a movie like this, credit to the young cast for pulling that off. Anyway, the fractured state of the relationship leads to Nic and Jonah deciding to take a side trip to confront Nomad. This leads to the film taking a big switch.

The trip leads the trio to an abandoned house. While Nic and Jonah inside, they here Haley scream outside. They run outside and everything goes dark. Nic wakes up in some medical facility being questioned by the Hazmat suit wearing Dr. Wallace Damon (Lawrence Fishburne). From here it would be telling too much to describe too much, but let's say that it takes a veer to the left (or right, if you prefer) from where you were into a new direction that attempts to be mysterious and contemplative, but while remaining interesting, it fails to fully capture the imagination.

The Signal is built on interesting ideas, a mystery that deserves investigation. The swerve is executed decently, although the build to the moment is better than the moment and the sequences that follow are well staged, but lack fully involving emotional thrust. Thin characters are made up for by mystery and visuals.

Where does the movie end up in my mind? It remains a positive experience, a good concept with somewhat questionable execution. It strikes me that William Eubanks is more of a technical director than and a story director. Technically, the movie looks great and delivers the goods, it fails on the overall fulfillment side. The conflict never seems to take flight.

The acting is good, given what they have to work with. They may not be fully formed, but what we have feels genuine. Beyond that, Lawrence Fishburne's presence is pretty great. There is something to his overall demeanor and line delivery that is rather captivating and helps carry though the weaker elements of the second half. It is also great to see Lin Shaye in a small role.

In the end, The Signal is a good movie that stumbles to the finish, but is still worth the time. There is enough substance to make it interesting. In the first half it delivers a convincing young relationship and in the second a compelling mystery. If only they could combine the character and the mystery, this could have been an absolute winner.

I know I have been nebulous, to say the least, about the second half, but it is better that way for when you see it, and I think it is worth checking out.


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