Indi Sci-Fi is never an easy trick to pull off but in some ways The Signal does manage it. Despite its relatively low budget co-writer and director William Eubank demonstrates a visual flair that is often staggering and always dazzling. But does The Signal stay strong or fade to disjointed sentences?
On a road trip home three friends; techy Jonah (Beau Knapp), cute-as-a-button Haley (Olivia Cooke) and recently crutch-bound Nic (Brenton Thwaites) have their laptops hacked by someone called Nomad. Tracing the signal to the middle of the desert the trio stumble upon something considerably more terrifying than a hacker. Quarantined in a medical facility Nic finds himself on the receiving end of a cryptic questioning from a HAZMAT suit-wearing doctor (Laurnce Fishburne). But the real secrets remain a mystery as Nic begins to realise that nothing is quite what it seems.
The Signal starts strong, immersing us in the characters the way Gareth Edwards did with Monsters. Taking us into their relationships by joining them on a journey into the unknown. It’s intimate, affection, shot with a glorious soft focus that makes you long for your youth and spending time with your friends. In many ways it’s a pity it has to end in order for the plot to progress.
But therein lies The Signal’s biggest issue. The plot never really does progress. It flits from a romance to a mystery to an escape drama to a sci-fi mind melt never really latching on to any one thing in particular. And the biggest issue remains that it is determined to keep the secrets as closely guarded as possible. From the moment the second act kicks in the film essentially takes a turn to the Twilight Zone and remains there right up until the final reveal, something which never quite offers up the big pay-off the build-up has deserved.
It feels as if it is a short film concept desperately being strung out to hit the required feature film running time. But despite the plot often leaving you feeling a little empty Eubank’s visuals are never anything less than hypnotic. The endless sprawling vistas of the desert juxtaposed with the sterile cold environment of the lab are one thing but once the third act action kicks in so Eubank’s flair goes into overdrive. The action takes on a wonderfully powerful sense of super-slow-mo silence, huge set-pieces are executed with a soft, music video like execution making them incredibly powerful and immersive. Despite his story leaving much to be desired Eubanks is undoubtedly a director of breathtaking vision.
Like a video-chat gone a little wrong the visuals of The Signal are crystal clear but the message a little garbled.