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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » The Signal (2014)
The Signal (2014)
Focus Features // PG-13 // June 13, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted June 11, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Independent science fiction has a lot of room to grow. However, the majority of these films go under the radar. Film festivals are often a great way to stay up to date with these pictures, although they are rarely trending in discussions. This is a real shame, since many filmmakers around the world are doing some truly interesting things with the science fiction genre. Writer/director William Eubank and co-writers David Frigerio and Caryle Eubank's newest motion picture The Signal is the best example of this. Despite its screenings at the Sundance Film Festival and Seattle International Film Festival, there hasn't been a lot of buzz on the Internet about this title. Even though this feature doesn't necessarily bring ground-breaking new content to the genre, it still manages to keep audiences on the edge of their seats and will leave them wanting more. After all, wanting more of a motion picture is always a good problem to have.

The Signal follows Nic (Brenton Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp). They venture on a cross-country road trip with Nic's girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) who is relocating for school. They are lured by a mysterious rival hacker, who goes by the name Nomad. Once they manage to trace his location to an abandoned house in the middle of the desert, they encounter something terrifying. The trio are captured and held in an underground facility. It's up to Nic to find out what happened and why they're being confined.

Before our characters are locked underground, we're able to briefly explore their relationships to one another. Nic and Jonah are extremely close friends who are quite skillful at hacking. However, the relationship between Nic and Haley receives the most attention throughout the picture. While they are already struggling through some troubles in their relationship, Haley is in a coma and Nic tries to execute a plan to escape with her. It's just a shame that we don't learn more about the characters before they're put in this underground facility. While the audience will undoubtedly care for the leads, it feels as if we're constantly being held at a distance. We're never truly able to get inside of Nic's head, or even connect with him on a more personal level. Viewers will be able to sympathize with him for the situation that he's trapped in, but the roles still feel rather disconnected from the audience. Fortunately, this issue isn't as prevalent throughout the entire running time.

Frigerio and the Eubanks don't truly bring the science fiction aspects until the second act. While we constantly suspect that strange something is going on, we aren't let in on any secrets that our leading man isn't aware of. As The Signal continues, puzzle pieces progressively begin to fall into place. The filmmakers provide several twists and turns through the second act, which successfully sets up a fair amount of tension for the film's climax. Audiences are constantly being asked one major question: can we trust Dr. Wallace (Laurence Fishburne) and his team? We're never really sure if he's being sincere and honest, and we don't know what his motives are. One of the only elements that we're aware of is that Nic and his friends are somehow contaminated. However, Nic still strongly believes that something weird is going on. As we watch his escape attempts, it will surely have you gripping your armrest. Eubank does an excellent job at building suspense and making us question whether or not he will successfully escape this underground facility with Haley.

The third act is a mixed bag, although the good scenes are extremely impressive. However, there are a lot of predictable plot beats during this portion of the picture. After experiencing all of the mystery that the first two acts provide, there's a brief moment of disappointment that is sure to overwhelm viewers. Fortunately, The Signal manages to dig itself back out of the hole that it created for itself. The climax of this picture is so exciting, that you'll wish that it wasn't so short. Even though this is an independent motion picture, it just might fool you to believe that you're watching an unusually decent Hollywood blockbuster. Once the final twist is revealed, it provides a shock to the viewers. It sets itself up rather well for the possibility of a sequel, which has the potential to be quite strong.

This science fiction motion picture is largely about a man who is willing to fight for friendship and love. Brenton Thwaites does an excellent job representing this in the role of Nic Eastman. He comes across as being rather authentic, which truly helps the film when it goes a little bit off of the tracks. Thwaites breathes life into Nic that wouldn't have been there otherwise. Olivia Cooke is good as Haley Peterson. Even when she gets into the more emotional material, she successfully pulls us in and makes us care about her relationship with Nic. Laurence Fishburne is the real star here, as he captures the audience in every scene that he's featured in. He brings such confidence and power to the screen, as he delivers the nail-biting suspense to an already tense picture. The cast is very capable here, especially under William Eubank's direction.

Not only does this relatively new director work well with his cast, but he also provides an enthralling visual experience. Eubank has had quite a bit of experience as a cinematographer, so this isn't particularly surprising. However, it is unusual how good it looks when considering that this isn't a big-budgeted flick. Yet, there are some pretty incredible action-inspired special effects that will surely catch your attention. Even during some more subtle and intimate sequences, Eubank provides an intriguing visual style that draws us further into the plot. This is only supported by the impressive audio design, which creates an excellent atmosphere.

The Signal is an intriguing piece of science fiction filmmaking that will keep audiences at the edge of their seats. While the film could have benefited from expanding further upon its character disposition, there are enough twists and turns to make this a memorable experience. Writer/director William Eubank has an exceptional sense of visual design, as he draws us in and keeps us invested through the majority of the picture's duration. The Signal is intense, entertaining, and well-shot. Recommended.

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