Movie Review: The Signal

From the nearly unknown director William Eubank, who brings his own unique cinematography and visual styles to his limited works of film, The Signal successfully displays Eubank's work in the most pleasing, and quite entertaining way. Spilling out themes from found-footage horror to immense science fiction, The Signal is probably the most unique and mind-bending film I've seen this year. 

A group of MIT students, known to be professional hackers, search for an unknown assailant by the name of Nomad. When they stumble upon an old, abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere, they soon realize that all is not what it appears to be. Waking up in a biohazard facility after experiencing the unknown, Nic Eastman (Brenton Thwaites) quickly discovers a brooding conspiracy, and must find out the truth of the matter before he loses his friends, his sense of reality, and his unimaginable grasp of what his decisions can do to him. 

With teenage stars, biohazard suits, eerie-lit facilities, and some sense of the alien-like, The Signal seemed to have every piece needed to construct the perfect low-budget sci-fi summer flick. And I'd say it succeeded at its construction. At my first glance at the film, I simply knew it was for me, having elements of my favorite genre, along with a dark tone to it that had me intrigued from the start. However, it also held another specific element that couldn't be overlooked: the fact that it was a low-budget film going up against the high-flying summer flicks out now, from animated dragons to animated robots fighting robots (among other non-animated films). While these low-budget films may have not always captured my attention, more recently the films have been popping up here and there, holding my interest with their methodical trailers. Recently, films like Her, which may have not been that low-budget, have captured my attention with their underlining themes that make the films so memorable. Like Her, this film is no exception, its themes tackling more than its visuals and its cast can. So, on a quiet Sunday after getting four wisdom teeth pulled, what would be better than enjoying some nice engrossing themes of emotional and rational decision-making while at the movies? 

Along with its intriguing themes, the cast of the film was also eye-opening, to a certain degree. Starting off with the film's main star, Brenton Thwaites, the cast is mostly unrecognizable, other than a mysterious role played by Laurence Fishburne. Thwaites, who just recently appeared in Disney's Maleficent, hasn't been around much in the film industry, so I didn't expect a whole lot from him. However, to my disbelief, he actually performed well as the lead, bringing in his own personality to play a struggling teen who stumbles onto something he shouldn't have. His friends in the film, played by newcomers Olivia Cooke and Beau Knapp, also played their roles well, holding my attention as the film progressed. The wild-card of the film, Laurence Fishburne, was definitely a surprise, playing a mysterious biohazard suit-wearing scientist who hides a dark secret throughout the film. Fishburne, who now plays Jack Crawford on my favorite show Hannibal, has always been welcome in my eyes, his characters on-screen never ceasing to scare, astonish, or intrigue me. While at first, the film looked odd and out of place in a world of star-studded films and A-list actors calling all the shots, after watching it, I've come to realize a film is not always about who shines the most or who plays the hardest roles, it's sometimes about what the film shows or implies, what the audience can take away from the film, other than what they thought of the main star. To me, I think that's what makes this film so mind-bending and methodical, the fact that it has such a limited cast, but it doesn't fail to amaze. 

Once again, another sci-fi flick succeeded in bringing me to the theater seat (at a worthy price too!). Like early June's summer sci-fi jump-starter, Edge of Tomorrow, this film managed to do the same, promising me "a mind-bending, unforgettable experience" in order to get me in the seat. While this film may have not ranked with the big leagues of Edge or even last year's Elysium, it managed to grab my mind and have its way with it (that might have come out wrong), in order to deliver something not overly "mind-bending and unforgettable", but something very close to it. While there are those science fiction films out to astonish and take hold of one's mind with their masterful visuals and futuristic technology, sometimes a good sci-fi fan just wants to stay grounded, with elements of that caliber, but not too much that it makes our heads spin. I think this film did an excellent job at keeping the audience grounded, but also keeping it interested, with its numerous metaphors and its well-crafted characters that evolve throughout the movie. 

Overall, after going on one-too-many tangents in my discussion of the film, I think this film is one to see if you're a fan of movies that make you think. With its underlining themes of decision-making and the choices that humans make in their lives, the film does well in intertwining deep thoughts with great imagery, a favorable habit to people who see a film to learn from it, not to just eat some popcorn. With a limited cast, low budget, and weird central plot, The Signal may not be for everyone, but it will surely appeal to you if you want a movie to both astonish you and leave you guessing in the end. Whether you're a fan of sci-fi or not, this can be your first odd film of the year, and one that you'll most-likely never forget. 

I gave this film a 7 out of 10 for its interesting cast of nobodies, its crafty yet creepy plot, and its confusing ending that will make you ask both "What the hell?" and "When is the sequel?"    


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