Best Quote from Audience Member:
"That was an hour and a half of build up for a screensaver."
I'll admit, I did not know anything about The Signal going into it. Exhausting every other movie on the marquee, it was either this or see 22 Jump Street again.
Maybe should have gone with Jump Street.
The movie starts off with a story about a nice kid who knows a bunch of math and science, and his two nice friends who also know a bunch of math and science. They're driving cross-country, having laughs and montages of road-trippy type activities so you will feel connected to them and love them all the more. You soon find out that Nice Kid #1 and Lone Girl were together, until Nice Kid #1 ended up getting some kind of degenerative disease and Lone Girl "betrayed" them and their collective MIT-student status to transfer to CalArts. Thus why Nice Kid #1, Lone Girl, and Nice Kid #2 are driving to California.
Nice Kid #2 is a geeky sort of fellow, and it's revealed that he and Nice Kid #1 have been "agitated" by a hacker who tried to frame their good name at MIT last school year. The hacker, known only as NOMAD , keeps taunting them until finally the two Nice Kids lose their cool and track NOMAD's signal down.
And by "tracking down," I mean they drive into an abandoned part of Nevada at midnight, turn off the road, find an abandoned Blair Witch trailer house, leave Lone Girl in the backseat by herself, and go traipsing into the trailer house with flashlights, a camera, and nothing else.
As you can imagine, bad things happen.
As I left the theater, I made a hypothesis: Hollywood has started a horrible, mistaken craze of letting cinematographers become writers and directors. I thought to myself, "Noooo, it can't be true. I'm just being snotty. Just because a cinematographer ruined Transcendence doesn't mean that was the case with The Signal."
Well, guess what. It was.
After a quick fact- check at IMDB, it seems William Eubank is the director and writer of this awful, awful trash bin of nonsense, and yes, he is an established and very talented cinematographer.
I don't know why the film making industry has all of a sudden decided that "pretty" means "a good story," but it's happening more and more. I will give it to Mr. Eubank that this movie was beautiful ... visually. There is a stunning ... stunning ... scene where Nice Kid #2 is doing some major physical stuntage, and it's gorgeous. However, my emotional reaction to this beautiful music video was relative to watching traffic go by. I just did not care, because other than looking pretty, this movie has absolutely way too much crap going on for me to continue to keep up.
I feel like as a writer, you make a contract with the audience. A Social Contract, if you will. You as the writer promise to keep the audience engaged and caring, and the audience promises to tag along and buy into your story. However, in The Signal, I felt like my brain was just rattled around from one red herring to the next buried gun to a possible clue to an unfinished thread that we never come back to. There was just too much to follow, and the payoff was not worth the trouble.
Be kind to your audience, writers. And give your pretty screenshots a point.
There be spoilers ahead.
There were two women in this entire film: Crazy Jesus Lady and Lone Girl.
Crazy Jesus Lady did not matter. She was just crazy. Although the actor playing Crazy Jesus Lady was astounding (Lin Shaye). She gave me the chills and made everyone very uncomfortable, which was her job.
Lone Girl was played by a Zooey Deschanel look-alike. I feel for this girl, because I can tell she's intelligent and has so much more to give, but there just wasn't much to do. Lone Girl starts off interesting; her boyfriend of forever has contracted a degenerative disease and she has promised to stay with him, even though she's leaving for a year to go to CalArts. However, he doesn't want to stay with her, because I don't know ... he likes moping and feeling sorry for himself? She even calls him out on that point, saying that she will not be made the villain for his decisions.
Angered/Saddened by his breaking up with her, she decides to follow the two boys into the abandoned signal site. I don't know why, but sure, why not? It isn't like this will be the last actual choice she makes in the film. So I was more confused at this point as to why her clothes had changed halfway through the last scene, because honestly, this is all we know about Lone Girl. She isn't a part of the actual hacking stuff, and the reason why she's moving is not explained. But from what I can tell, she's the smartest of the bunch. This idea is supported by the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) the aliens take her gorramed brain! Or spine ... it's never really explained. We're going with brain!
More spoilers continue as we enter into the second act of the piece, where Lone Girl is a vegetable, then a confused zombie, then a catatonic lobotomized zombie, then a confusing romantic partner who gets swooped up and never seen again. At the end of the movie, after all of the clues and mystery and terrifying what-not, the only real worry I had was, "Where the hell did that one girl go?!"
So no, this movie does not pass the Bechdel Test. An interesting character who could have helped the Nice Guys was instead a victim and a current reminder of Nice Guy #1's guilt and duty, although the movie was again too worried about mystery and suspense than fleshing that out.
So who would like this movie?
Honestly, there were some scary parts in it. The trailer house took a night of sleep from me. I will never again be able to look in a tree at night with a flashlight. It is indeed a suspense thriller. So I would like to say suspense thriller geeks.
However, usually suspense movies have some kind of a payoff. If you like movies to pay you for your time, don't go to this one.
If you don't care and really like high-budget Linkin Park music videos, come on in! The water's fine!
THE MOVIE ITSELF: It was visually stunning (except for Lone Girl swapping out shirts halfway through a scene). Brenton Thwaites (Nice Kid #1) works his drooling acting chops off, and you can tell he really cared about this role. Fishburne doesn't seem to really care, and he gives us this last look of "Yeah, I know. It's no Matrix" the last time we see him. And that's the thing. It just isn't The Matrix. It's not Blair Witch Project. It's a rat's nest of storytelling. D
ENJOYMENT FACTOR: I'm never going to see this movie again. But I did enjoy some of the acting, and I did like some of the visual effects. For a good night out with friends, I'll give it a C.
VERDICT: Wait for the Redbox, pop some popcorn, and watch it the next time you can't sleep.
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I see a lot of them.