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Overall Rating

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 Peter Sobczynski

"Starts Strong, Quickly Fades"
3 stars

Every once in a while, someone gets the bright idea of doing a film that consists of a collection of short films from a variety of filmmakers that are somehow linked together thematically. Some of the world’s greatest directors have tried taken stabs at this type of storytelling and while some of the individual segments that have resulted have been memorable (I’m thinking of Martin Scorsese’s “Life Lessons” from “New York Stories” and George Miller’s terrifying take on the classic TV episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” in the “Twilight Zone” movie), the films in general have been an uneven lot in which the occasional high points mix haphazardly with more embarrassing moments and the basic structure means that just at the moment when you find yourself getting engrossed in one particular story and set of characters, it is inevitably replace in a few minutes by others and the process begins all over again. The new horror portmanteau “The Signal” tries to mix things up a little bit–the three directors here are all unknowns and the three different segments all tie together to tell one overriding story–but the results are still the same: one-third of the film is quite brilliant, one-third is mediocre and one-third is so weak that it pretty much drags everything else down with it.

The conceit of the film is to show, using three different perspectives, what occurs one New Year’s Eve when a mysterious signal broadcast throughout all the televisions, radios and phones in the metropolis of Terminus and transforms most of its citizens into bloodthirsty maniacs who brutally kill anyone around them without the slightest hesitation. In the first story, Mya (Anessa Ramsey) leaves a late-night tryst with lover Ben (Justin Welborn) to return home to hateful husband Lewis (AJ Bowen) just in time to see her apartment building disintegrate into an orgy of blood-spurting violence for no apparent reason. After spending the night hiding out in a friend’s apartment–the friend, alas, isn’t so lucky–Mya finds another sane person in neighbor Rod (Sahr Ngaujah) and sets off for the local train station, not realizing that Ben is trying in vain to catch up with her.

Unfortunately for Ben, Lewis, whose natural jealousy has been amplified by whatever is going on, catches up with him and puts him out of commission for a while. Still pursuing Mya, Lewis winds up in another apartment with Anna (Cheri Christian), a shell-shocked housewife who copes with the fact that she just had to kill her husband in self-defense by fretting about the New Year’s party that she was planning to host before all hell broke loose, and her landlord, Clark (Scott Poythress), who is just trying to figure out what do in a world gone wrong. Unfortunately for Anna and Clark, Lewis is growing more and more deranged, sees his wife and her lover everywhere and is perfectly willing to kill anyone who comes into the apartment, whether they are infected or not. In the final act, the surviving characters all converge upon the Terminus train station and settle all the various loose ends once and for all.

The first segment of “The Signal,” the section directed by David Bruckner, is by far the best of the bunch with its effective blend of low-key performances from the actors (Ramsey is especially good at conveying the utter shock that an ordinary person might experience in the midst of such an extraordinary situation) slow-burning tension and dark humor that eventually explodes into the kind of lunatic blend of chaos and mass hysteria that George Romero so effectively chronicled in his underrated 1973 thriller “The Crazies.” The second third, directed by Jacob Gentry, shifts from realistic horror to gory comedy and this is the moment when the film begins sliding off the rails. The film tries for the same balance of deadpan humor and extreme gore that “Shaun of the Dead” pulled off so brilliantly but it just doesn’t work as well here–the humor is so poker-faced that the laughs get buried under the attitude and the last-minute turn to deadly serious and seriously sadistic violence strikes such a jarring and unpleasant note that it feels as if it was trucked in as a desperate last-minute trick to wind up a storyline that no one could figure out how to conclude in a more elegant fashion. The final third, with Dan Bush at the helm, is easily the weakest of the three. Of course, this is mostly because he has been given the unenviable task of trying to create a story that will somehow bring together the two previous stories and resolve them in some manner that ties up the loose ends–it gets the job done, I suppose, but anyone hoping for a creative resolution will no doubt be dissatisfied with the we-give-up attitude surrounding this conclusion.

I don’t want to come down too hard on “The Signal” because while I don’t think that it ultimately works in the end, it is far more ambitious in both concept and execution than the majority of contemporary American horror efforts and the opening third really is an effective bit of short-form spookiness that the film tries and fails to live up to for the rest of its running time. Essentially, this is a cinematic calling card from a trio of directors who are out to serve notice to the film industry that they have what it takes to make a movie. All they have to do now is make a good one.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15638&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/22/08 00:00:00
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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
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  22-Feb-2008 (R)
  DVD: 10-Jun-2008



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