Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Signal (2008)

Our parents always told us that TV would rot our brains and the three filmmakers of The Signal have really taken this warning to heart. The team of David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry has created a film where an electronic signal sent through the television, the radio, phones, etc. changes normal people into raging homicidal maniacs. The mysterious signal distorts perceptions and scrambles receptors in the brain so people’s logic is skewed and they do things they normally wouldn’t do…like kill everyone in sight.

When The Signal premiered at Sundance Film Festival last year, it generated a lot of buzz. It follows three different perspectives (broken down into segments or “transmissions” in the film) that are each written and directed by three different people. Transmission 1: Crazy in Love follows Mya, Transmission 2: The Jealousy Monster follows Lewis, and the final Transmission 3: Escape from Terminus follows Ben. Does the film live up the hype? Only one way to find out…keep reading!

As a brief Grindhouse-era film plays (a very realistic recreation by co-director Jacob Gentry), it is interrupted by a pulsating, blurry signal. The signal looks almost organic, and we can almost make out shapes in the psychedelic colors, but not before they become distorted and turn into something else.

Ben (Justin Welborn) wakes up to the mysterious signal playing on his TV, which has turned on by itself. The woman sleeping next to him, Mya (Anessa Ramsey) is cheating on her husband with Ben. After realizing how late it is, she has to rush home, but not before Ben tries to convince her to stay. He tells her they can leave the city, Terminus, together and never look back. He tells her to meet him at Terminal 13 tomorrow so they can go away together. He gives Mya a mix CD he’s made for her as a present, and she sets off towards home with the CD playing through her headphones.

When she gets to her car, she notices a homeless man that has been stabbed and another man that rushes up to her as Mya struggles to get in her car. When she arrives home, things aren’t quite right there either. There are people arguing in the hallway of her apartment building and she can hear many raised voices behind closed doors. When she finally reaches her apartment, she finds her husband Lewis (AJ Bowen) and his two friends trying to fix the TV, as the same signal that she saw at Ben’s is also on their TV. The phones are all out as well, and she uses that as a handy excuse to lie to her husband about why she is home so late.

Things in the apartment soon escalate between the three friends and after someone is bludgeoned repeatedly with a baseball bat, Mya runs out in the hall…only to find dead bodies littering the floor and an ominous man with a pair of gardening shears coming towards her. She finds refuge in the apartment across the hall until morning. In the morning’s light she sees how messed up things really are and flees the apartment complex to head to Terminal 13…and thus ends Transmission 1: Crazy in Love.

Transmission 2: The Jealousy Monster shows us Lewis’ story and his determination to track down Mya no matter how many people he has to kill to protect his happiness.

In Transmission 3: Escape from Terminus, the story is told from Ben’s perspective as he battles Lewis to get to Mya first.

With big Hollywood movies, more directors and writers usually spell disaster for a film. Too many cooks in the kitchen can create a big mess of a film. Such is not the case with The Signal, though, as you can barely tell there is a distinction between the three different segments. They all flow together seamlessly and each holds quite a few surprises. It is evident that co-writers/co-directors David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry worked closely together to create a scary, fast-paced, and oftentimes funny, horror film. The direction was gritty and really gave the audience a close-up of the craziness that the characters were experiencing. The writing was witty, funny and realistic with more than enough twists to keep you guessing as to who is crazy and who isn’t.

With a complex script that featured unreliable characters whose perceptions you couldn’t trust, the filmmakers needed to find excellent actors to match. Luckily, the filmmakers found actors who can flip the switch between happy and enraged in the blink of an eye. I was very impressed with AJ Bowen’s performance as Lewis, the wronged husband. His sudden emotional changes coupled with a skewed perception were impressive to watch. He made Lewis a very unlikable character and yet we couldn’t get enough of him! Anessa Ramsey also made quite an impression as Mya. It’s just a pity we didn’t see more of her! The rest of the cast did an amazing job as well and really helped make this movie a success; without these particular actors I’m convinced the film couldn’t be as good as it is.

As for the gore, there are plenty of cringe-worthy scenes that even had the two huge metal guys I was with recoiling in their seats! The kill-or-be-killed mentality of The Signal leads many to compare it with the philosophy of many zombie films. The sudden violence of the film certainly lends itself to the comparison, as does the brutal scenes of gore. Still, The Signal is more intelligent and much scarier than any run-of-the-mill zombie flick. The crazies in The Signal can still think, albeit in a distorted type of way where their logic becomes twisted. They are not just acting on instinct as zombies do, but their reactions are ruled by the corrupting signal and sometimes you can’t tell who is crazy and who isn’t. It also feels realistic with its allusions to brainwashing, the power of advertising that we are exposed to every day and terrorism.

The Signal is a daring and fresh approach to the intelligent person’s horror movie. What if social etiquette was ignored and lawlessness ruled the land? What if an electronic frequency was high-jacked to make us devolve into savages and turn against our fellow man? Can you imagine the terror of a world in which seemingly rational people turned into not just crazed killers, but crazed killers with logic behind their violence? The Signal delves into each of these questions and more to make a completely terrifying and entertaining independent film.

This is not a test…go see The Signal today!

Available from Amazon!

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