SIFF Film Review – The Signal
In The Signal, directed by William Eubank and shown at the Seattle International Film Festival, MIT students Nic (Brenton Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) are escorting Nic’s girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) to California, where she will be attending school for a year. They are also being tracked, harassed, and teased by a hacker named Nomad. The boys think they have a lead on his location, and it just happens it’s not far off their route. They decide to confront the hacker, but all is not what it seems when they reach their destination. As the boys investigate the house where they think he is, they hear Haley screaming outside. (She is pouting in the car because she is mad at Nic. Of course.) They return to find her missing and the electronics in the car working strangely. They both experience an event (not going to say what it is) and Nic wakes up in a hospital-like setting with everyone but him in contamination suits. As he tries to find out what has happened, the mystery only deepens.
The first two thirds of this movie are pretty decent. The set-up is interesting, and I was on board to discover what was coming next. I liked the characters and things seemed to be going in an interesting direction. Unfortunately, the final act is so bad I can’t recommend the film even though a lot of it was pretty engaging. I’m going to be vague here because I don’t want ruin whatever pleasures the film does have, and I know people are going to see it even though I think they shouldn’t. BE WARNED: the final act of this movie is clichéd, silly, and nonsensical. YOU ARE WASTING 95 MINUTES IF YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE. THERE IS NO PAYOFF. (Well there is, but it’s stupid.)
One interesting thing: the main character Nic has a degenerative disease and walks with crutches. This was kind of cool, except for an emotional subplot with Haley, where he wants to spare her the pain of watching him get worse, so he pushes her away. He would have been a much richer character if he just had the crutches but not the drama. Turns out, having a differently-abled character can add depth and interest to an action movie; in scenes of peril, Nic has to handle the situation differently because he cannot move as fast, and the possibility of him falling increases the stress of the situation. It’s a pretty cool twist on the genre and something I would like to see more of. Unfortunately, it ends up going nowhere. And there’s a lot of cool stuff in the set up that never really gets followed up on. Nic is super duper smart – this doesn’t really seem to have a point in the plot. Haley also seems very smart – also doesn’t matter because she is relegated to girlfriend material and spends most of the movie looking sleepy. Jonah seems cool, but there is kind of no point to him being there. (There sort of is at the end, but it’s dumb.)
The acting is mostly good – Laurence Fishburne is surprisingly off as the head contamination suit guy, but he’s still Laurence Fishburne, so there’s that. Even mediocre Fishburne is better than no Fishburne, so I’m not going to complain too loudly. Olivia Cooke and Beau Knapp don’t have much to work with here, but they do the best with what they have. Brenton Thwaites is in almost every scene, and he makes the stupidity of the whole thing a little less painful. I recently saw him in Oculus, which I really enjoyed. I recommend watching that instead.
I realize I’ve been pretty vague about why I disliked this movie so much, but it’s hard to be specific and not reveal the plot twists. And there are twists-a-many. Eubank throws so much stuff in the last act that nothing ends up making much sense. And it’s all a bunch of crap. Any one of the ideas – properly expanded upon and dealt with – might have created a story that wasn’t very original, but might have had a chance of working. (I can forgive clichés if done well.) But this throwing together of half-baked already-seen-it-befores just creates nonsense. Two-thirds of the way through the film, it turns from being a pretty interesting mystery, to being a laugh out loud crapfest. I resent the dumbness of it, but even more, I’m pissed at the waste of a great set up. I don’t normally get that worked up about bad movies, but something in this one just sets me off. Even if you ignore my meaningless anger about something that doesn’t really matter, this movie still kind of super sucks.