Signal, The (2007)
Reviewed by Evil Andy
Starring AJ Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn
Directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry
I feel bad for the makers of The Signal, I really do. Their film is going to be simplistically compared to 28 Days Later and Stephen King’s Cell. Normally this wouldn’t be bad company to keep, but the comparisons misplace the focus of what is really unique about The Signal and makes it sound like you know what you’re getting into. You don’t. The film plays out almost anthology style due to the clearly delineated three act breakdown, with each act, or "transmission", being directed by one of a trio of filmmakers: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry. The first act is an intense apocalyptic setup, the second act delivers some disturbingly black humor and the third act wraps up with some impressive gore gags and a thoughtfully ambiguous ending.
The first act begins at midnight on New Year’s Eve; the precise moment when all devices capable of transmission; TVs, radio, telephones, spontaneously, and inexplicably begin emitting a strange white noise-like signal. Prolonged exposure to the signal causes a sort of paranoid schizophrenia that usually results in those who have caught "the crazy" murdering everyone around them. In an interesting twist, the signal appears to take varying lengths of time before it infiltrates people’s minds. This leads to a slow burning apocalypse, in which it takes half the night before most folks realize something is seriously wrong.
The story revolves around two separated lovers, Maya and Ben, who are trying to reunite, amidst the chaos caused by the signal. They are further hampered by Maya’s jealous husband Lewis (AJ Bowen, of Creepshow III "fame") , who finds out about Maya’s infidelity just as he’s exposed to the signal. Needless to say, a cuckold with "the crazy" makes for a bad combo; Lewis is big, nuts, and he’s got revenge on the mind.
The second act finds Lewis holed up in an apartment with Anna and Clark, two survivors who he thinks may know where his wife is. Anna’s New Year’s Eve party invitees keep turning up, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the end of the world is nigh. The partygoers keep distracting Lewis from finding his wife, so he simply starts murdering them. The transmission begins like a "Kids in the Hall" sketch with Lewis, Anna and Clark trying to hide corpses from their clueless guests. By the end of the transmission, the humor is bled dry and all that remains is the spare and disturbing reality of Lewis’ possessive madness.
The setup culminates in the third act, which focuses on resolving Maya, Ben, and Lewis’ unhealthy love triangle. The final transmission ratchets up the gore level, giving us decapitated heads smoking cigarettes, power tools used as restraining devices, and an Irreversible homage that doesn’t quite outdo the original, but gives it a good shot.
The really impressive thing about The Signal is that despite its being broken down into three distinct parts, with different themes, different tones, and different visual styles, the story plays extremely coherently. Much of this can be attributed to the noteworthy performances and character continuity tying the different transmissions together. But, perhaps more importantly, the humanist message behind the film is present in all three segments, even though the filmmakers find different ways to reveal it. Horror films with a message are rare. Well told, well acted, wet ones, are even rarer. You’d have to be crazy not to watch The Signal.
3 1/2 out of 5
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