Don’t ever trust hackers. Not that you ever could anyway, but just saying.
Three MIT students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites), Jonah (Beau Knapp), and Haley (Olivia Cooke) are on the road to Haley’s new place, where it’s presumed that her and Nic will eventually break-off, because a long-distance relationship just isn’t something that two 20-year-old’s can handle together. Anyway, on the road, Jonah and Nic discover that an anonymous hacker they’ve been talking to and playing around with wants to take them to a destination, where they’ll meet up for the first time ever. When the three do get to the destination, it just so happens to be a worn-down house in the middle of the desert that they go into and hear some weird stuff. Moments later, they are mysteriously knocked unconscious, and several moments later, wake up in a padded-up testing center where they are asked a series of strange questions by Damon (Laurence Fishburne), someone who seems like he knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about. However, Nic is tired of all this crap that he’s been force-fed and decides to take it upon himself to discover the truth about the place that he is at, and find out whether or not he can be reunited with his friends, once again.
I must say, while that may not sound like all that much of an intriguing premise, there’s something interesting about what this movie does with said premise that makes it worth watching. It’s strange, because for the first 20 or so minutes of this movie, it’s pretty much like any other indie coming-of-ager – there’s shots of young college kids in a packed-car driving down a highways, looking out from upon a mountain, discussing what the future holds for them, and trying to grasp adult-hood, while somewhere in the background M83 plays. It’s no surprise to me that this movie screened at Sundance, because honestly, it seems like the kind of movie that that sort of crowd would go bananas over.
Not me, however. And it wasn’t that I was bored, it was because the movie just moved too slow without anything interesting to be happening at all. Sure, the idea that this hacker wanted to meet up with them was something that kept me wondering, but the characters were boring, the soundtrack was so moody and saddening, that it made me want to chug a whole bottle of Merlot, and there was no Laurence Fishburne. Sounds dumb, I know, but when you expect Laurence Fishburne to show up in a movie, because you know he’s in it, it’s a bit hard to get past the fact that his lovable mug isn’t present within the first half-hour of whatever movie is in question.
Thankfully though, that all changed once the movie reveals to us that “twist”. I use parentheses, because the movie never makes it clear to us what’s going on with these three kids, or what these people in padded-up, astronaut-like suits are actually up to; the movie just plops us down into the middle of a situation that we have no clue about and are left to fend for ourselves. Whenever that happens to me in a movie, I’m always grateful, because it’s so easy for a movie/director to just force-feed us everything we’re supposed to know or understand, in order for our eyes to stay glued to the screen at all times. Not every movie has to be so obvious with what it wants us to know to add tension or a whole understanding of everything, but not many directors out there are fine with just playing it subtle.
But director William Eubank totally is and that’s what really kept me alive and awake during the second-half of this movie. It was still slow like the first-half, but this time, there was something actually charging it and keeping it alive and interesting. The story itself could have turned out to be 1,000 different things, and as ridiculous as most of them could have been, they still worked because it was a movie that didn’t show, nor tell us everything.
Instead, we come to our own conclusions about certain characters, their motivations, and just what the hell is going on behind the sealed-doors. Because we’re thrown into the mind of our lead protagonist, Nic, we never have a totally clear clue what those in charge are absolutely up to; all we do know is that they want to extract info and play some strange mind games with Nic himself. It’s supposed to make us pissed that they aren’t telling him anything at all and practically messing with his head every chance they get, and because we’re thrown into his head, his mind, it sort of works.
There was a certain part of me that wanted to see this Nic kid to find his friends, break out of this “prison”, and find any sort of peace or safety that’s at all possible, while also exposing these mofo’s for all that they are worth. In a way, I got a rebellious spirit in the pit of my stomach and though I didn’t want to see Nic go full-Pacino and start screaming “Attica!” from the top of his lungs, I still wanted him to get out of this strange situation alive, well, happy, and at least safe from these creepy, vague a-holes.
However, there’s a problem with all this because once the movie becomes all about Nic on the run from these mofo’s, it gets repetitive, albeit, conventional. Don’t get me wrong, the reason this is an original sci-fi movie, is because of how much it keeps us away from knowing the truth; everything else, from the gadgets, to the vernacular, and even to the post-apocalyptic-ish landscape is just feels like ground covered before. But it’s how the story tells itself is what works so well and makes it seem like something of its own beast. That’s why once the final-act comes into play, it seems like an ordinary-thriller that loses its way about two plot-twists right off the bat.
It was a bummer that it happened so late in the movie, but it was an even bigger bummer that the plot-twist that it ended on was so bizarre, it reminded of David Lynch. And no, not the good David Lynch either – the bad!!
That said, the cast is serviceable, if not entirely memorable. The three younglings who play these college-grads don’t have much to work with, and as a result, feel underdeveloped despite how hard they try. Though, the one who gets away with this problem is Laurence Fishburne, which more or less has to do with the fact that his character leaves so much to be desired, it’s intriguing to watch. Not to mention that Laurence Fishburne can read any line, humorous or not, and make it seem like he’s thinking of 30,000 different things at the same time. He’s just that good and watching him ask a kid if he’s agitated or not, was surely some fun. And lord knows there needed to be more added to this.
Consensus: While its an interesting premise that goes into some very strange places, perhaps the Signal‘s biggest problem is that it doesn’t know when to stop with these strange places, and just let the story tell itself in a regular way, without any added excitement or craziness.
7 / 10 = Rental!!