THE SIGNAL (2014)
Running Time: 95 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: William Eubank
Distributor: Focus Features
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Robert Longstreet, Sarah Clarke, Laurence Fishburne, Jeffrey Grover, Beau Knapp, Lin Shaye
Even if you are a cinephile who goes to movies directed by David Lynch and early Darren Aronofsky, you may find William Eubank’s film THE SIGNAL bizarre. Eubank, whose 2011 freshman effort LOVE deals with an astronaut lost and alone in space (sounds familiar), has thereby certified his sci-fi credentials, but if a book were to come out based on THE SIGNAL, you might find the prose either banal or confused. This is because the movie itself has only a bare patina of narrative coherence. Instead, Eubank’s cinematographer, David Lanzenberg, and Colin Davies as visual effects supervisor, concentrate on cinematic eye candy, dazzling the senses with a flurry of blinding fast motion (as when the principal character is fitted with robotic legs that allow him to run faster than a rapidly moving vehicle) and a number of slow-motion studies that essentially show chards of glass, wood, and whatever else can be found in Meghan Rogers’ production design to fly through the roof.
While some viewers will be reminded first of the 1999 horror pic THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and others of PI, which came out a year earlier, I like to think of it as reminiscent of what is arguably the best film of 2001, David Lynch’s wildly imaginative and intriguing MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Still, THE SIGNAL has little of Lynch’s internal logic, spinning off as a series of scenes that shine brilliantly but do not charge the emotions.
The best thing about THE SIGNAL is the lead role of Australian-born Brenton Thwaites as Nic Eastman, traveling with his dorky pal Jonah Breck (Beau Knapp), who announces his dorkiness by regularly pushing his glasses to the top of his nose, and Olivia Cooke as Haley Peterson, in love with Nic but discouraged by the lad because he has MS and has little to look forward to me ultimately than winding up in a wheelchair. The young men are driving Haley to her new digs in California when the two gents make a detour to locate and trap a guy named Nomad who has hacked into a computer at M.I.T.
Of course they find the culprit but their experience is not the fun deal that they expect. Winding up in a blinding-white room reminiscent of a government interrogation place, Haley falls into a coma while Nic is questioned extensively by Dr. Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne), who spends most of the movie in a space suit, speaking through a microphone inside his head gear.
Despite the mysteries illustrated by William Eubank who co-wrote the screenplay with Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio, THE SIGNAL looks familiar with its recycled myths, relying on a conflict between the mysterious man in a space suit and a down-to-earth trio of young people. Somehow the word gets out that Nic, who has escaped, is dangerous, leading the doctor and his associates to chase after him—a difficult job indeed since while Nic was asleep, his benefactors supplied him with a pair of legs that allow him to travel a good 40 miles per hour. No more crutches for him, and does he feel gratitude? He does not.
Look for Thwaites in an abundance of future roles, a potential heartthrob that will appear on theater marquees advertising the likes of Phillip Noyce’s THE GIVER where he appears with Meryl Streep as a guy who lives in a colorless world of conformity until…
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