Title: The Signal
Country: United States
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: William Eubank
Writers: Carlyle Eubank, David Frigerio, William Eubank
Producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Tyler Davidson
Music: Nima Fakhrara
Cinematography: David Lanzenberg
Editing: Brian Berdan
Cast: Brenton Thwaites (Nic Eastman), Olivia Cooke (Haley Peterson), Beau Knapp (Jonah Breck), Laurence Fishburne (Dr. Wallace Damon)
Nic, Haley and Jonah are three young friends who are driving cross-country their way to California. Nic and Haley are sweethearts but because Nic is suffering from a degenerative disease that is impeding his motor abilities (that soon will put him in a wheelchair) he wants to save Haley from the emotional trauma of seeing him worsening. Haley doesn’t take kindly to that and sees it as a rejection. Jonah is the life of the party and does his best to keep the spirits high. Both Nic and Jonah are highly intelligent computer experts and Nic is a natural mathematician. He was also once an enthusiastic jogger and competition runner but his recent disease has taken a toll on his once joie de vivre.
But the voyage is in fact an excuse by Nic and Jonah to track down and find a legendary hacker known as Nomad, who once hacked into the MIT servers and burned them down and pinned it on them. Nic and Jonah almost got expelled because of that and as such they want to have some words to the elusive hacker.
Jonah, the hacker of the group, manages to pinpoint the location of Nomad, which leads them to a deserted road in the middle of the Nevada desert. Late at night they find a shack in the middle of the wastelands and, despite looking abandoned, soon they discover connection cables and the evidence the place is indeed the origin location of Nomad. But then, unknown assailants attack them.
Nic wakes up from a drug stupor after an unknown spent of time in a place that looks like an old laboratory facility populated by people dressed in HAZMAT suits. One of them is his interviewer, a Dr. Wallace Damon, who informs Nic that he and his friends are in his custody as they are a special interest case because they survived an encounter with ETL- Extra-Terrestrial Lifeform-, and there’s the chance of contamination by unknown bacterial agents.
But Nic doesn’t believe what Dr. Damon says and suspects he’s a prisoner for other nefarious reasons and decides to do his best to escape and rescue his friends, even if he is incapacitated from walking.
This is the second feature length film from director William Eubank after his 2011’s Love, which I have already reviewed here, and which can be read on this site.
I have grown to respect and gain a measure of admiration for Eubank as a filmmaker from watching the two films he has made so far. He is a true natural born filmmaker with a gift for striking imagery composition and creative editing. Both of his films are science fiction and it’s obvious he has a deep love for the genre.
Also, both films were made with what are meager budgets by the American film industry standards, and yet both look stunning and larger-than-life than their budgets would make one believe. I have seen more limited talented established filmmakers commanding more than ten times a higher budget for much smaller results.
The acting is pretty good overall. Lawrence Fishburne as Dr. Damon, in particular, looks like he’s enjoying every minute. It’s no mystery that Fishburne is a major self-confessed SF geek and while he is one of those actors who constantly delivers quality acting work, he seems to brighten up and has obvious fun when acting in a SF movie where his heart is into it, where The Matrix is the most obvious example but even in much inferior films like the immensely disappointing and dumb it-could-had-been-so-much-better Event Horizon.
The younger cast made up of Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke and Beau Knapp are no slouches either and deliver eager performances which would ordinarily be seen in more “normal” dramas.
The film’s story is simple though earnest. The obvious inspiration is the classic Twilight Zone TV show, which Eubank himself admitted in interviews. Much like that classic show, while the story can be seen as simple, it’s told with verve and a true obvious desire to make a proper good film. You can tell the filmmakers truly wished to make a good movie and did their best efforts to achieve a piece of quality in what in other hands could be just a piece of SF peplum.
There’s precedent to filmmakers who desire to elevate a “silly” SF film into something better, and one of the earliest examples I can think of is the brilliant classic Them!, that I view as the grandfather of all the little SF films with ambitions higher than most of their brethren of the genre. I like that. That is not to say that movies like Them! and The Signal are not designed to be entertaining, which they are. Online reviewer and personality Outlaw Vern once wrote in one of his reviews that it’s not enough that one is entertained when watching a film, but that one has to be entertained WELL. I abide by that notion and I see that put to practice by filmmakers who are honest, hardworking and eager in their film work and their film, eve in stories, which would, on the surface, be just another silly dumb movie in lesser hands.
The same aforementioned online reviewer also compares genre films with jazz music in that it’s not so much important and all that imperative that films are utterly original but that they each are able to riff on known themes with their own voice, the same way a jazz performer can play a well-known song and tune and yet invest in it their own style and delivery performance that makes them their own. I think this film does that, takes a known plot and plays in its own style. If it does well and achieves quality is to the audience’s to decide, but I easily see in the film an honest attempt. And I react very well to that.
There has been a recent emergence of young filmmakers who are both talented and passionate about science fiction and they have made some of the most interesting films of the genre in recent years. Eubank belongs to this group, in my opinion. They are a breath of fresh air in a time when even the once old masters of the genre have disappointed or where established Hollywood “creatives” create dumbed mass produced films which are nothing but a joke to the genre and an insult to audience’s intelligence and the love of the fans. Thank goodness there are alternatives and I’m convinced Eubank is one of those. I can’t wait to see what more he has to offer, and I think his best is yet to come.
This is AsimovLives signing off. Have a better one.