Title: The Signal
Director: Will Eubank
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Beau Knapp, Olivia Cooke, Laurence Fishburne, Lin Shaye
Several years ago, in 2011, multi-hyphenate director Evan Glodell and a group of collaborators with whom he shared a long list of short-form collaborations made a weird little film, saturated in feverish tones, called “Bellflower.” Whatever one thought of that movie itself as a finished narrative product, its construction was so audacious and of a piece as to almost take one’s breath away. “The Signal,” directed by Will Eubank, is an extraordinarily different work, but one every bit as charged and shot through with cool assurance and technical savvy. It’s the type of indie offering that cuts right through all the noise and clutter, signaling the arrival of undeniable new talents.
Co-written by director Eubank, his brother Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio, “The Signal,” which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, unfolds in confident shorthand strokes, its characterizations winnowed down to spare essences. It starts off as a road trip movie. Nic Eastman (Brenton Thwaites), his girlfriend Haley Peterson (Olivia Cooke) and his friend and fellow MIT student Jonah Breck (Beau Knapp) are heading west when they decide upon a detour. A mysterious hacker known only as “NOMAD” has been messing with Nic and Jonah, and when they’re able to pinpoint his location, they decide to pay an unscheduled visit. Their directions lead them to an isolated area, however. Suddenly, there’s a flash.
When Nic regains consciousness, he finds himself trapped in a waking nightmare. He’s groggy and injured, and sealed off to boot from Haley and Jonah. A doctor in a hazmat suit, Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne), keeps Nic in isolation, informing him that he believes he may have come into contact with aliens. Eventually Nic escapes his enclosed compound, but encounters a number of strangers (including Lin Shaye) who force him to further re-evaluate his impressions of his situation.
“The Signal” is nominally a science-fiction-rooted thriller, but it’s powered by mystery more than incident, and dread more than horror. In this this regard, the first act especially is rapturous. The film as a whole is beautiful, though — an experiential treat. Eubank has a previous directorial credit under his belt (the little-seen “Love”), but has also served as a second unit director and cinematographer on a variety of features. Collaborating here with cinematographer David Lanzenberg, Eubank delivers a movie with a visual template that is alluring and hypnotic — the cinematic equivalent of a lonely drive down a dark desert highway. Composer Nima Fakhrara assists this evocation of mood with a score — a slow piano leitmotif which incorporates droning elements — that connotes a kind of high-brow menace. Smart sound design helps too, as embodied by the quiet clink of a trinket hanging from a car’s rearview mirror.
That the film’s narrative eventually paints itself into a bit of a corner is perhaps somewhat expected. It’s here, too, where the representational tack of the movie’s first act comes back to bite it in the rear end just a little. While the performances herein are uniformly great, the plot separates Nic, Haley and Jonah, and when the story brings them back together it feels like too much time has passed. A stronger channeling of subjective point-of-view or, conversely, a slightly more conventionally structured narrative of investigation that keeps our frazzled trio together would have rooted “The Signal,” and afforded it more emotional punching power.
Still, the dark, involving swirl of this thought-provoking low-budget effort — a blend of “Moon,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “THX-1138” and “Chronicle,” among other titles — doesn’t let go of a viewer easily. Even if there are some hiccups in its wind-down, there’s nowhere else one would rather be while watching it.
NOTE: For more information on the film, visit http://RUagitated.com, and/or www.The-SignalMovie.com. For some of ShockYa’s interviews with the cast and crew, meanwhile, click on the following links: http://www.shockya.com/news/2014/06/04/exclusive-beau-knapp-talks-the-signal/; http://www.shockya.com/news/2014/06/08/exclusive-director-will-eubank-talks-the-signal/; and http://www.shockya.com/news/2014/06/11/exclusive-lin-shaye-talks-the-signal/.
Written by: Brent Simon