Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like Zombie movies. They bore me deeply.
But The Signal is an interesting film in that it provides a look into the minds of normal people when their inhibitions are put on hold by a signal transmitted over every conceivable electronic devise capable of receiving its data. Car radios, cell phones, but the most demonstrative of The Signal’s eerie manipulations arrives over the television and if you are lucky enough to have a nice widescreen HD TV then you’re really in for a treat when it switches itself on providing a iTunes visualizer like experience of undulating wave forms and color. Who is sending The Signal or why is it being sent is never touched on, perhaps for good reason.
The loss of modern moral inhibitions of the inhabitants of Terminus creates video game like demolition obstacle courses that are very much like a zombie film but provide an additional bit of psychological twist.
These rabid violent glassy eyed meat bags speak and often in amusing or psychological conundrums that raise the film high above the usual fare of such apocalyptic society gone bonkers blood fests.
Just before The Signal takes them over, the victims lull about their lives almost in anticipation of the murders they are about to commit. The characters seemed to be straining in their daily lives and when The Signal arrives it sets them free and finally allows them to do what they have been hoping for all along.
Mya (Anessa Ramsey) is having an affair with a weird, edgy nice guy, Ben (Justin Welborn), who though is infected with the Signal, seems to have it under some kind of control. While Mya’s husband Lewis (A.J. Bowen) is quite the reverse, he welcomes the signals freedom as an invitation to kill all the things that he has always wanted to kill, if it were not for the silly moral standards and repercussions of societies laws.
The violence ramps up very nicely from a strained ( Youtubish ) relationship of friendship to outright baseball bat swings to the head, when Lewis finally gets to express his long withheld frustrations at his wife’s obvious and justified dislike of him. I would have loved a snapshot of a past memory as to why she married this bugger.
The performances were actually rather good for the most part, there is an air of confusion to the characters as they stumble about trying to understand if they are affected by the signal or not. Are they insane about to murder or merely caught up in a horrific situation trying to survive? Should they justify their actions in the light of self defense or are they also just plain crackers?
In a car scene, Mya is driving with a friend as they try to escape from the chaos of their apartment building when suddenly he strikes her repeatedly in the face, almost absentmindedly. His reaction is awkward confusion.
It’s an important moment, setting the tone of the film: the insane do not know that they are crazy but are still coherent enough to question their crazy actions and could burst through the seams of moral restraint at any moment.
Like being operated on but still awake, not an enviable situation.
There are three parts to this film, like three shorts, and that is where the film’s coherency is weakened. The opener sings and its stark portrayal of violence with shutter stutter and grain lends it a classic horror look. It pulled me into the film’s essence, coupled with the psychological edge of aware and sometimes calm killers gives the scenes an inquisitive air of authority. Extremely well executed and written.
But the second sequence though enjoyable, and uniquely comedic was overly long thereby creating a sense of discontinuance from the promising opener. Its slant on the characters attempting to figure out if they were insane or not was well played out and added information that gave more weight to the scenes in the first half. Bringing gravitas to lengthy zombie pauses and conversations with The Signal inflicted people from the opener, making you question who was insane with The Signal and who wasn’t.
There needed to be an edit to shorten this sequence and unify it better as a bridge.
The final sequence is the weakest of the three, sadly adding very little to the thread of a developing psychological drama. Ben’s ability to stay calm and enable others to do likewise is never really explained properly to me though his skill is used to lead Lewis to final demise. I wish this moronic miscreant had died in the second act by the hand of a married woman who he sprays poison on mercilessly. Lewis’ death comes too easily and without enough pain to suit me, so much build up and not enough final release to end his role.
Mya has nothing to do in the third sequence but sit there jittering and staring blankly, while the two men fight for ownership, probably the most insane act the two have done in the entire film considering her vacant state. Winning her would have proven fruitless.
And the ending of this film is so meaningless that I have actually forgotten it. That is how little emotional impact it had on me, which is very contrary to what I was initially feeling about this film during the opener and second sequence.
If there could have been a REMIX of The SIGNAL, I would have killed Lewis in the second act. With so many innocent people dying its inevitable that Lewis should die, which he does, but it should have happened much sooner.
Then I would use the third act to reinvigorate the film and reunite the star struck lovers. Ben finds Mya in some bizarre situation that would introduce yet a final antagonist who is forcing people to view The Signal in order to create an army, a scene that exemplified and finalized the unique psychological treatment that was created in the two thirds of the film.
Ben uses his mental skills for a more dramatic and emotional effect to save Mya from The Signal’s infliction only to discover when she drives a screwdriver into his head that she is over the edge, insane. Of course she has probably wanted to do this from the beginning for luring her into a love affair that has caused her so much trouble and angst. She breathes a sigh of relief.
One director’s vision to unify the film would have perhaps saved it and I chose David Bruckner. In fact I will be looking for his next project in anticipation.
This is a must see film if only for the opener, and for a few half sneered laughs held down by torture and confusion in the second part. Enjoy these and grind your way through the end and it’s an evening well spent.