“The Signal” falls short

Winston Eng, Staff Reporter

Film too strange for its own good

There is something to note when coming into a movie with few, if any, expectations and leaving completely stunned, confused and somewhat conflicted about how to further process your initial thoughts. Often ambition exceeds execution, and unlike the mind-bending inquiries of “Inception” or “Shutter Island” that seem to plague your mind throughout its entirety and post-viewing, some films fall just short of success and enter a limbo of competing frustration and awe.

William Eubank’s “The Signal” provides this type of dichotomy, and despite stunning visuals alongside an interesting premise, the film bites off more than it can chew with its “The Twilight Zone”-esque approach.

Like many science fiction stories, “The Signal” is best experienced going in with as little information as possible. Protagonist Nic and his best friend Jonah are hackers making their way across the country from their school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to California Institute of Technology, where Nic’s girlfriend Haley will be transferring in the fall. Along the way, they are constantly fiddled with and played by Nomad, a hacker who earlier crashed MIT’s servers and placed the blame on them. Convincing Haley to take a quick detour, Nic and Jonah set out to deliver justice, a path that takes them outside a seemingly deserted shack supposedly housing their new rival. The following footage takes the viewer into a “The Blair Witch Project”-esque point-of-view where slowly but surely the situation starts to escalate beyond their control.

My eyes were glued to the screen as “The Signal” continued to get weirder and creepier each minute. Yes, some plot points did end up as loose ends, and sure, the dialogue did leave much to be desired; however, what really stood out was the uncomfortable, sickening atmosphere that seemed to hover and wallow around me.

I felt the need to constantly question what exactly I would do if given the same situation. Could I maintain my sanity? How would I know what was real and what wasn’t? For a film that springs up so many questions, I enjoyed the fact that I did not have to want to feel immersed to be immersed; the backdrops and camera work were carefully composed, and though often ephemeral, moments of crafted suspense and wonder wavered in absurdity and honest, plain fun.

What was frustrating was the fact that such a unique spin on a classic motif could have definitely been explored and fleshed out especially given the short 97-minute runtime “The Signal” had. Moreover, I didn’t realize until after the ending that some of the most interesting and quirky aspects of the film did not actually play as well together as I had initially thought. This is a testament to how well the film does to draw you in, but at the same time, fail to deliver a cohesive and connected narrative.

Those familiar with Duncan Jones’s “Moon” or William Eubank’s previous film “Love” might find this film to be just as provocative and unusual; fans of found-footage sci-fi films such as Josh Trank’s “Chronicle” and Sebastián Cordero’s “Europa Report” are encouraged to give “The Signal” a shot.