Dir: William Eubank
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cook, Beau Knapp, and Laurence Fishburne
By Monte Yazzie with The Coda Films
There is a moment in William Eubank’s science fiction tale “The Signal” when he corresponds the desolation found along a road trip with the idea that though we may feel isolated there is more going on in our vast world. This journey for three college students feels ill fated from the beginning, a mystery that is handled deftly and formed with tension surrounding the uncertainty of young adulthood. Through seamed flashbacks that display the burgeoning love of Nick (Brenton Thwaites) and Haley (Olivia Cook), the crossroads of their relationship is introduced. Nick is suffering from a progressing physical disorder that requires the assistance of crutches. His girlfriend Haley is moving to a different school across the country but wants Nick to commit to a long-term, long-distance relationship. Battling insecurities both physically and emotionally, Nick is unsure of his future.
“The Signal” does a great job of masking its appearance; if it weren’t for the telling trailer it would be difficult to figure out what kind of film was playing out. It starts out like a horror film, spinning intentions in the early portion of the film with cryptic and sinister purpose. After a full break-up between Nick and Haley a side trip is planned to confront a hacker named Nomad, who has been threatening Nick and his friend Jonah (Beau Knapp) since they left college. What they find is a dirt road and an abandoned house with high tech equipment in the basement. The group is blindsided and taken captive in a decrepit research facility. A man (Laurence Fishburne) in biohazard uniform conducts a series of tests on Nick, who is separated from Jonah and Haley. Eubank holds the mystery until this point adding a creative twist of intervention for Nick, one that is unexpected and shifts the film into the realm of science fiction. Unfortunately after an impromptu escape the film loses the positive emotional conflict established in Nick and his aversion to change, both controlled and uncontrolled, in his life. A drawn-out and incoherent finish, amidst slow motion action pieces, is substituted in place of closure or otherwise for the characters.
The performances by the cast are effective, a nice change seen with recent genre films. Nick, given shape by flashbacks displaying his physical ability and sturdy relationship with Haley, is offered the emotional heft of the film. Brenton Thwaites succeeds in carrying the weight, which makes it regrettable that his character was somewhat slighted in the finish. Laurence Fishburne is good in a calmly menacing role, the entire time in a biohazard suit that only reveals his face.
Good science fiction blends concepts of fantasy with humanistic and societal qualities. It’s visible early on that director William Eubank, who shows his talent throughout, was shooting for this goal. While “The Signal” doesn’t always meet its lofty ambitions, it is still an intriguing attempt.
3.00 out of 5.00