Review: THE SIGNAL (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Friday, 29 August 2014

Review: THE SIGNAL (2014)

2.5 stars
2.5 stars
Despite the intriguing premise and some nifty visuals, THE SIGNAL is a heavy-handed sci-fi thriller that will leave you more baffled than agitated.

When I first saw the trailer earlier this year, I was curious about THE SIGNAL, which looks to me like a mind-bending cross of TV's Twilight Zone and The X-Files. No doubt, the premise is fascinating enough but upon finally watching the entire movie, I found out the execution isn't as fulfiling as I thought.


A trio of MIT students -- Nic (Brenton Thwaites), his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) and his best friend Jonah (Beau Knapp) -- are on their way through Nevada where they suppose to drop Haley off at her college campus in California. Meanwhile, a mysterious hacker who goes by the name of "Nomad" has been messing up their servers with cryptic emails and such. They decide to track the hacker down which eventually leads them to a mysterious house in the middle of nowhere. While investigating the area, something strange happens and they blacked out. What follows next is even more mysterious when Nic wakes up in a government facility, feeling all dazed and confused. Soon he finds himself being questioned by Dr. Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne), a government scientist dressed in Hazmat suit who wants to know more about him during the fateful night at the particular house. 

Reportedly cost at a measly US$2 million to make, THE SIGNAL could have been dismissed as a cheap production. However, the overall look of the movie really surprises me a lot. From Terrence Malick-like warm and dreamy flashbacks focusing on Nic and Haley's happier days together to the bright and clinical interior of the government facility that recalls Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), director William Eubank, who is a veteran cinematographer himself, and cinematographer David Lanzenberg has truly crafted a top-notch visual showcase which looks and feels like a big-budget Hollywood production.

Kudos also goes to screenwriters Carlyle Eubank, William Eubank and David Frigerio for embracing the kind of thinking man's twisty sci-fi thriller that keeps you intrigued and guessing at the same time.

The young cast, Brenton Thwaites and Beau Knapp, are adequate enough for their roles but it was Laurence Fishburne who gives a strong supporting performance as the enigmatic Dr. Wallace Damon which reminds me of his iconic Morpheus character in THE MATRIX trilogy.

The effects-laden and stylish slow-motion action set pieces which involved Nic and Jonah in the climactic finale, and the excellent final twist which I admit I didn't see it coming.

Despite all the thought-provoking mysteries that appears within the screenplay, the movie suffers a lot from uneven and sometimes awfully slow-moving pace which could be a real test of patience, especially for those with short attention span. Another glaring weakness is Olivia Cooke's underwritten role as Nic's estranged girlfriend, Haley, who hardly leaves a lasting impression here.


For a low-budget movie, I have to applaud that THE SIGNAL is a cinematic triumph of stylish visuals and provocative ideas. But too bad this would-be fantastic sci-fi thriller clearly lack of sustainable depth to turn this into a coherent whole.

* This review is written courtesy from GSC press screening *

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