By Vic Holtreman
4 out of 5
Short version: Funny, scary, gory and unpredictable, this is sure to become a cult classic with a strong following.
The Signal was one of my favorite films from those I had the opportunity to watch and review at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. As a longtime horror movie fan (much more of older stuff than what's come out recently), it was great on many levels and fortunately you'll be getting the opportunity to see it soon as it was picked up for theatrical distribution.
There was a short film before the main feature called Little Farm which was shot in only 48 hours. Given that constraint it wasn't bad, except for the fact the two of the three main characters gave pretty close to the worst performances I've ever seen on screen. Aside from that, although it was pretty strange, in the end it delivered some pretty good scares. I actually had a woman sitting next to me ask if that was the main feature. :-)
On to the main event...
When the film started, I thought that I might be in for a really low budget, 70's style horror film. It opened with really grainy film showing a woman under duress in the woods with a man who had apparantly done some unpleasant things to her and was preparing to do more. We cut to an old cabin to see a couple more victims who have been captured.
Shortly the image pulls back to reveal that it's a movie being shown on television. The picture soon starts to break up and is replaced with strange, undulating patterns and a strange noise. (At the time I'm writing this you can go to the official website to see and hear the signal.
Here is where we meet Mya and Ben, who supply the romantic connection in the film. Mya is having an affair with Ben, apparently a rugged, yet sensitive guy whose naked butt the directors apparently felt it necessary to display. (What is it with horror movies, for which the target audience consists of young men, showing more male than female nudity? Wierd...) Anyway, Mya says she can't just pick up and leave her husband although Ben seems to be mister awesome romance guy. Before she leaves he gives her a custom mix music CD. She tries to call home as cover for her meeting with Ben, but both her cell phone and the landline telephone are making the same noise that was coming from the television.
She gets home shortly and discovers that things are quickly getting out of control due to this mysterious signal that is being broadcast everywhere, with more and more people going nuts and murderously attacking each other. Her goal becomes to meet up with Ben and somehow escape the situation.
The Signal has three definitive acts, each filmed by a different director and each with a different style, yet all moving the story forward. The first act is reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead (both versions, actually) and 28 Days Later. It has the apocalyptic storyline and a staccato editing style that adds to the suspense. One thing that made me groan in this part of the film though, was when Mya is trying to get safely out of her apartment building and to calm herself decides to put on headphones so she can listen to the CD Ben gave her. So there are murderous rampaging people around, you want to get to safety, and you're going to cut off your sense of hearing plus distract yourself with music? Brilliant...
The second act shifts gears and while gory, is extremely funny. It was a wierd feeling being jerked from extreme violence directly to hysterical comedy and back again, but it worked. There was a friend who showed up about halfway through this part of the film who was absolutely hysterical, acting oblivious to what's happened and caring only about the party planned for that evening and the possibility of hooking up. The third act then shifts back to a more serious tone. One of the things I enjoyed about the approach was that I really didn't know what was going to happen next or where the film was going.
This was good stuff and is destined I think to be a cult film favorite. The combination of story, writing, action and gore really worked, and with the romance it even makes you care about the characters. Always a bonus in a movie of this type and one that makes the difference between a movie that quickly disappears and one that endures for years.
The pet peeves I have include people that just wouldn't stay dead. We're talking getting battered with a big fire extinguisher multiple times with enough force that would turn a skull into pudding. The only explanation might be that due to the effects of the signal, these people weren't really still moving, getting up, etc., but that those in the room just imagined it. The other thing that bothered me was how our hero seemed to be able to fight off the effects of the signal despite exposure. This was never really explained to my satisfaction.
So although this isn't a zombie movie, if you're a fan of the genre or if you like comedy and don't mind some serious violence and gore, I highly recommend you go see The Signal when you get the opportunity.