Sci-fi is doing well these days, but so far all the major films have failed to truly entice. Films like Elysium and Oblivion were decent enough, but they never managed to amaze the way only a good sci-fi can. Luckily the broader appeal these blockbusters are currently enjoying means smaller genre films are getting a better shot at success, and that's where things get interesting. The Signal may lack the big bucks and the mass appeal, but it's a damn fine film nonetheless.
I missed Eubank's freshman film Love, but based on the qualities of The Signal it won't be long before I'll be checking that one out. Reviews seem to indicate that both films share quite a bit of common ground, so fans of Love probably shouldn't hesitate to check out Eubank's latest. For some reason Love seems to have garnered quite a few detractors though, so Eubank might not be a director with a very broad appeal. Whatever the case, The Signal is a film worth giving a shot.
The Signal starts off like a regular horror flick. Two geeks and a girl head out on a hunt for a mysterious hacker. Put some teens in a car on their way to a deserted spot and seasoned horror fans out there are going to catch on pretty quickly. It gets even better when they arrive at an abandoned house and the film switches to a first person camera view. But right when the scares are bound to pop up, Eubank switches gears and puts his sci-fi adventure on the rails.
Saying anything more about the story would be spoiling too much, but it's safe to say that things get freakier as the film progresses. It's never quite clear what the hell is going on and Eubank has a lot of fun hiding the truth from his viewers. Each revelation introduces more questions and each plot twists just opens up a path with more twists and turns. The Signal is equal parts mystery and sci-fi, luckily Eubank never forgets to pay ample homage to the film's sci-fi roots.
Eubank is a former cinematographer and it shows. On a shoestring budget he still manages to deliver a fine-looking film. Even the CG is convincing, though there still are a few shots that betray the film's low-budget background. Lighting and use of color are impeccable though and both help to create a grim and atmospheric film. Also props for some very neat tech design. The science part looks pretty cool and feels different enough from your average blockbuster fare. Near the end the film goes into visual overdrive and even then Eubank doesn't fall through, which is actually rather surprising for a film like this.
The soundtrack is moody and effective, not the most original stuff (lots of dark ambient soundscapes and some softer piano tunes for the flashbacks) but certainly helpful in setting up the right atmosphere. It's not a very memorable score and the music itself never really jumps out, but it does a good job becoming one with the movie. I like my soundtracks to be a bit more outspoken and involved, but at least it's effective enough not to bring the film down.
Laurence Fishburne is clearly set up as the actor who has to draw in the crowds, ironically enough he's also the weakest link. For what's little more than a poster-name though, he plays a surprisingly big part in the film. Thwaites, Cooke and Knapp do a much better job as the central trio and find the necessary drama in their characters. They give them a little extra that makes you care, even when the concept and plot are clearly more important than personal drama. And of course Eubank deserves extra points for Lin Shaye's cameo, she's probably the most peculiar horror icon alive today and it's always a joy to see her perform.
What begins as a horror film and switches over to sci-fi halfway through ends up being a pretty effective mind fuck at the end. Not everyone is going to appreciate these sudden shifts in genres, but even though they are quite sudden they never tear the film apart in different segments. Eubank carries over elements from one genre into another and manages to maintain a solid bottom line throughout the entire film. It's quite a feat, considering all the different ideas put into The Signal.
Eubank is clearly a talented director with a vision. He might not transcend the genre film segment to become a big blockbuster director, but that's probably just for the better. He can make magic happen on a small budget and at least this way he can push his own concepts and ideas forward. The Signal is everything a good genre film should be, and a little more. Purists should approach with caution but broader genre film fans can do little wrong with watching The Signal.