The Signal (2014)

The Signal (2014)
  • Time: 95 min
  • Genre: Sci-Fi | Thriller
  • Director: William Eubank
  • Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Brenton Thwaites, Lin Shaye, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp


On a road trip, Nic and two friends are drawn to an isolated area by a computer genius. When everything suddenly goes dark, Nic regains consciousness – only to find himself in a waking nightmare.


  • Movies are a visual medium and to really categorize something as a feature film a director should show the story and not tell. To put it simply in movies we show in theater we tell the story. That is an old rule of filmmaking in a visual sense of the word. In filmmaking we have teams of people that are responsible for different aspects of the movie. You have production design crew that often works months and sometime years before one frame is taken. During filming you’ve got the lighting technician otherwise known as Gaffers who take care of the lighting of the set. Then you have a rigging crew known as Grips that are responsible for attachment of the lights and their placement. And then you have an electricians who make sure to distribute electricity without blowing the power generator. Finely you have two arguably most important teams, camera crew and director crew. The head of camera crew is Director of Photography which often happens to be, but not always, a camera operator as well. Usually this is the person responsible for the visual style of the picture. He checks the light intensity and apart of the esthetic aspects of framing is busy with checking all of the technical aspects that has to do with visual style of the picture. Last and to some extant most important you have director and his two assistants. 2nd AD deals mostly with actors and their whereabouts on the set and the 1st AD is sort of police officer that is responsible for smooth functioning of shoot on set. Actual director has very little to do technically during actual shooting and yet he is the “God” that makes all the most important decisions. He probably spend many months, if not years working on pre-production of the film and he will invest many months after in editing room overlooking the visual and sound montage of the final movie. Because on set he mostly is an eye of the audience, his most important job is to be able to direct the actors to pull out of them the best possible performance. Sometime there might be conflict between DP and a director, who both feel important in what they do. Sometime DP’s who’ve been in the business for a long time feel that directing is easy and they try to make a movie of their own. Janusz Kaminski Cinematographer of Steven Spielberg at one point tried his luck as a director in movie titled “Lost Souls” and unfortunately he did not succeed in creating a engaging movie.

    Writer/director William Eubank worked for Panavision as a cinematographer for 8 years and decided to make a movie of his own called “The Signal”. Science fiction suspense that has all the signs of a making of a great entertaining art house thriller. It is visually beautiful, slow paced with almost hypnotic quality to it, which I usually like. And has a very engaging story that makes you want to sit through the movie to the final scene to find out what is really happening. Like in this case sadly, often when movie is being directed by a former director of cinematography he puts a lot of attention on a visual aspect and not enough on character development. The movie ends up being 97 minute show reel of the visual work that he have done coming closer to a music video clip or commercial where the look takes over the narration. The audience mostly really do not care how the picture or lighting looks like, they focus on the story and actors performance which enhances the believability of cinematic experience. I really wanted to like “The Signal” and I do think that there is something special about it.

    “On a road trip, Nic (Brenton Thwaites) and two friends are drawn to an isolated area by a computer genius. When everything suddenly goes dark, Nic regains consciousness – only to find himself in a waking nightmare, literally”

    The idea of alien abduction as well as body mutation has been done in the past in movies like “District 9”, “Dark City” and “THX 1138” to just to name a few. Here director through the whole movie is keeping us, just like the main character Nic, in the state of oblivion about what actually happened to him and his two friend when they became abducted by aliens. We find out the story through Nic’s eyes, trying to figure out what is going on.

    For a movie that was made for a humble budget of 4 million dollars “The Signal” looks stunning with slow-mo action scenes (camera slows down till about 120 frames per second offering beautifully detailed visual treat). The performances are under played which might be conscious decision by the director to inject more mystery in to what is really happening. I do not want to talk in detail about the plot to not give away to much, but all I can say is that it is engaging despite of very slow and arty pacing.

    In terms of performance everyone delivers believable characterizations starting from Brenton Thwaites who happens to be on a hollywood star radar being seen in this year “The Giver”, “Maleficent ” and now “The Signal”. He looks like a Disney product and I mean that as a complement. Laurence Fishburne’s voice is always pleasant to hear and here he does not disappoint using it in a very hypnotic way. Lin Shaye has a small but telling role as a little bit of a cuckoo driver who picks up escapes from the secret military base. She always have something spooky about her and gives similar performance like in a cult horror movie “Insidious”. Borderline mad and sweet at the same time. Other supporting actors like Olivia Cooke who’s playing girlfriend and Beau Knapp playing best friend Jonah offer a good support to our protagonist.
    The idea of making him cripple works out very well with the twist which I will not explain here, because I do not want to spoil it for you, but it seems heavily influenced by “District 9”.

    The big minus of “The Signal” is the ending where I feel director explains too much by showing us what is really all along going on. I think he should have kept it with the style of the movie and make us wonder, instead of giving us the explanation of symbology in the ending. All in all I did enjoy this film despite of his faults but I wish the characters would have been little better developed which usually is a job of director and like in this case if the director happens to be a DP then the visual style takes charge of narration and that is not always the best way to go. Average audience member does not care about the visuals for him it is important to emphasize with the drama of the character which in “The Signal” has not always been achieved.
    (******* out of 10)
    For more of my film reviews:

  • I had no idea what this film was about when I started watching it. Looking at the movie poster, you can assume it has something to do with SF. But I didn’t expect it to be such a brilliant film. Compared with other great well known SciFi’s, “The Signal” is more of a modest movie. This will probably also be due to the small budget (4 Million Dollars). But despite this small budget, this magnificent indie has some very successful moments with hallucinatory special effects.

    Sometimes you watch a movie and you are wondering all the time what’s actually going on. Eventually I had the same feeling as Nic (Brenton Thwaites) : groping in the dark, anxiously looking for the truth and feeling desperate. Nic was on its way to California, together with his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) and his best friend Jonah (Beau Knapp). Haley was planning to attend school in California. Something Nic wasn’t so happy about, resulting in ending up (probably temporary) their relationship. Along the way, they are contacted by a rival hacker, Nomad, who has put them in an awkward position already before. They decide to follow his tracked signal and confront Nomad. They end up somewhere in no man’s land in a dilapidated shack of a house. The next moment Nic wakes up in a kind of research center where everyone walks around in space suits. It seems like they are quarantined. He has no idea where he is, where his friends are and what is going on. He’s regularly interviewed by someone named Dr. Damon Wallace (Laurence Fishburne), probably head of this facility and responsible for the investigation. To Nic’s consternation Wallace announces that they are probably the victim of an EBE (Extraterrestrial Biological Entity).

    Revealing more about this movie would be ridiculous. Actually, it is advisable to go and have a look at this film with as minimum information as possible. The fact that it’s a low-budget film, means that the success of this film doesn’t depend on the quality of SE’s (though there are a few slick-looking effects), but the storyline should be highly original and ingeniously fit together. While watching “The Signal” I could predict which way it was going and where it would end up (actually there are only two options to choose from), and yet I was surprised at the denouement. Despite the unknown actors (besides Fishburne) and the fact that this is only the second film directed by Eubanks, this is still a successful and refreshing SF. Do not expect “Star Wars” situations or “Edge of Tomorrow” action parts. The entire film keeps a perfect balance between mystery, successful visual images, surprising plot twists, strong performances and masterfully applied special effects.

    A brilliant, magnificent SF which is pretty captivating through its simplicity and sobriety, and continues to fascinate. Some will thoroughly hate and reject it. Others (like me) will applaud it. I would recommend every SF fan to give this low-budget a chance and after viewing it, be overwhelmed by a creative whole with admirable visualization and an oppressive atmosphere. The great mystery is resolved in the end though. But some things are not explained in detail and thus remain unanswered. This will be frustrating for some. However, I am a big fan of such movies in which there are certain developments which are open to self-interpretation. But if someone can share his opinion about the part with the cow, I’ll be eternally grateful to that person …. “The Signal” will create a stir and I predict it’ll receive a cult status in the SF genre. I expect great things from Eubanks in the future! Something to look forward to.

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