40%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
65%

Every once in awhile, a movie comes along that unhinges me, causing a rather vehement reaction due to its deceit. I’ve  felt that a bad ending doesn’t make or break the entire experience, but the whole “wool over the eyes” trick, can feel manipulative rather than complementary to the world that’s been established. I felt cheated by the ending of Signs, to the point where my laughter at its conclusion caused audience members to give me dirty looks. I still don’t understand the acclaim for that debacle. More recently, the film Mr. Nobody was a complex science fiction mind-bender akin to The Signal that lost me in every way possible to where I became angry at its ineptitude. For a guy that feels so much empathy while watching movies, every once in awhile, the complete opposite occurs and I experience complete apathy.

So here comes The Signal, a movie that thinks it’s building up to a shocking conclusion but has nothing else going for it before the big reveal. Then the reveal came, and I shrugged. Its pretense lies in an attempt to ape the works of the aforementioned M. Night Shyamalan as well as visual cues from Stanley Kubrick that feel more like plagiarism than a development of one’s own style. Thin characters are made up for by mystery and a dreamlike, perfectly centered visual landscape. Normally I like both of these elements when they are accompanied by much more than meets the eye. But The Signal is an incredible failure in my eyes, stiflingly lost in its dramatic intent which becomes null in void as it goes along. It’s also very unfortunate that this is a difficult movie to write about without going spoiler-heavy, since there is a mystery that develops that is better left unrevealed. There is a second act shift that switches its initial focus, which I only found mildly compelling until realizing where it was headed.

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Nic, Haley, and Jonah are three hackers traveling across the country. Upon receiving mysterious messages from a rival hacker (who had given them some trouble in the past), the trio takes a detour to confront the seemingly brilliant computer whiz with the gifted ability of hacking into any computer or camera around. Unfortunately, they’ve just walked headfirst into a nightmare as they run into a mysterious force. Upon waking up from this encounter, the three find themselves confined in a facility populated by scientists in bio-hazard suits including a wasted Laurence Fishburne. I won’t go any further, because some people will still venture into this film, in spite of my dire warning. Even if I wanted to deconstruct the plot properly that is practically impossible due to the sheer convoluted nature that works up to a semi-predictable final revelation that felt like a giant middle finger to the audience, which in turn, made me want to flip the bird at the screen myself. The Signal tries painfully hard to be philosophical and deep, but the end result winds up being an overblown jumbled puzzle storyline.

This is a mind-numbing experience that fails to capture the imagination, lacking a visceral invasion of the psyche in a way that is the least bit memorable. Certainly there is a mystery at the center of the story that unfolds involving attempts to find out what happened to one character while another refusing to reveal pertinent information. But it’s in service of very little since character development is completely absent, in hopes that a “gotcha” gimmick will draw the audience in, Twilight Zone-style. The overall structure of The Signal has huge problems because it looks like three small, sloppy films strung together by a weak short storyline and unconvincing acting. Eubank’s directing style jumps around as he goes from shaky hand-held shots to sequences filmed with so little movement they play as being very cold and distancing. There is no clear vision here, and that becomes its downfall. Maybe the intent is to make the audience as confused as the characters on screen but unfortunately that is not a good thing when there is no investment or stakes to what’s taken place. The Signal attempts to blend themes and references many other films of all genre types, from The Thirteenth Floor to The Blair Witch Project, thus lacking an identity of its own to make it stand out from the crowd. Once the closing credits began to roll, I felt cheated by its obviousness and trickery on hand. For the first time in a long time, a movie made me truly angry since I could’ve been watching How to Train Your Dragon II for the second time instead.

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