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Overall Rating
4.11

Awesome43.48%
Worth A Look: 28.26%
Just Average: 26.09%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 2.17%

7 reviews, 4 user ratings


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Signal, The
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by Mel Valentin

"Top-notch post-apocalyptic survival horror."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Written, edited, shot, and directed by Atlanta-based filmmakers David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry (yes, you read that correctly), "The Signal" premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it garnered critical buzz and appreciative audiences for its blend of post-millennial angst, social commentary, and post-apocalyptic survival horror. The good news first: Magnolia Pictures picked up stateside distribution rights for "The Signal." Unfortunately, the bad news is that you’ll have to wait several more months before getting a chance to see "The Signal" theatrically. As a more than worthy successor to the "Dawn of the Dead" remake and "28 Days Later" mixed with a little "Videodrome" and "Cell" (as in Stephen King’s "The Cell"), "The Signal" will be worth the wait.

Split into three interrelated parts, each helmed by a different director, The Signal starts off small, focusing first on two lovers, Mya (Anessa Ramsey) and Ben (Justin Welborn), just emerging from their post-coital bliss as a psychedelic signal begins to play on Ben’s television set. Mya’s anxious to get back home to her suspicion-prone husband, Lewis (AJ Bowen). Ben, however, wants Mya to end her marriage and literally run away with him. She postpones any life-changing decisions for another time, but accepts Ben’s parting gift, a mix CD of his favorite songs, including a rendition of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.” All is not well, however, when Mya exits Ben’s apartment and discovers an injured man by her car and another man quickly approaching her. Back at her apartment, Mya finds Lewis entertaining two of her friends, Rod (Sahr Nguajah) and Jerry (Matthew Stanton). Within minutes, Lewis is beating Jerry with a baseball bat and Mya’s neighbors are murdering each other.

Part two first follows Mya and another character’s attempted escape from the apartment complex, but then switches to Anna (Cheri Christian), an upper-middle class woman preparing for the New Year’s Eve party that night. Sitting not far away from her is her now dead husband, Ken (Christopher Thomas), who attempted to murder her after watching the signal. Anna’s landlord, Clark (Scott Poythress), stops by with a twisted story of his own to spin. Soon thereafter, an obviously disturbed Lewis, makes an appearance, carrying a heavy pesticide container with him (it makes a handy weapon too). Anna, Lewis, and Clark initially get along, but one of Anna’s neighbors, Laura (Lindsey Garrett), and one of the party guests, Jim Parsons (Chadrian Mcknight), show up.

The third part picks up where the second ended, with Ben and Lewis frantically looking for the missing Mya and taking turns at bashing each other. In other words, it’s pure survival horror from that point on, so further plot details would give away too much. Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry leave the source and nature of the signal purposely vague. While one character, the hyper-smart Clark, throws up a theory that, on least superficially, sounds convincing enough, the filmmakers don’t come back to it. The filmmakers aren’t copping out, though. Leaving the source of the signal unclear serves a larger purpose, whether the signal triggers homicidal impulses after the first transmission (if at all) or whether, once the social order has broken down, murder seems the most expedient course of action. At least two characters, Rod, who initially acts justifiably in self-defense but becomes consumed by his violent impulses and Lewis, who starts off with serious anger and jealousy issues and gets increasingly violent as he pursues Mya eliminating real and perceived obstacles along the way, would fall in the latter category.

Rather than set The Signal in a “real” city like their native Atlanta, Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry decided to give the city in The Signal, another name, Terminus. While Terminus suggests something out of a science-fiction story, it’s actually Atlanta’s original name (for the train lines that ended there). One character, Clark again, suggests that they can’t escape Terminus, an idea that once again, is left unexplored. Entering Matrix or Dark City territory (i.e., alternate realities or dimensions) would have been tiresome and clichéd, though, so it was a net positive for Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry to leave where and when The Signal takes place. Leaving so many ideas or questions unresolved is exactly what smarter moviegoers will ponder on their way out of the movie theater and later when they revisit The Signal on DVD (and they will).

The Signal delivers what it should, pure, visceral shocks mixed with the blackest of humor, especially during the second section. Characters get bloodied and bruised, sometimes to the point where they shouldn’t be standing or moving around, but we’ll give Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry the benefit of the doubt. Some characters live, but most don’t, dying violently and often unexpectedly. For a film with The Signal’s modest budget, it looks better than good. Outside of one digitally enhanced shot, the filmmakers keep The Signal focused on its rapidly shrinking cast of characters and their experiences, a smart move when you don’t have the money for panoramic shots of the city on fire or massive amounts of mayhem. The first, prolonged attack occurs in an apartment building that allows for plenty of carnage. The Signal looks slick too, but at this point, that shouldn’t come as a surprise when we learn that Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry handled the cinematography too.

"The Signal" makes a larger point about free will. Characters who give in to their baser instincts destroy themselves. Those that manage to keep themselves together, no matter how tenuously, have a chance of surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. Sounds pretty heavy for a genre film, doesn’t it? Well, "The Signal" isn’t a standard issue horror flick. Sure, it has all the elements we’ve come to expect from post-apocalyptic/survival horror flicks, but with tight, near seamless direction, a multi-layered screenplay, and surprisingly good performances from a hardworking cast (the three leads, especially), "The Signal" is simply a standout film, regardless of genre.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15638&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/10/07 00:49:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell IT SUCKS 1 stars
1/06/09 FrankNFurter Shocking,artistic,disturbing horror/sci-fi.Like Night of the Living Dead on acid. Must see! 5 stars
10/21/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
6/12/08 ES Was good, a bit over the top and confusing at moments 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  22-Feb-2008 (R)
  DVD: 10-Jun-2008

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