Review of The Signal, Directed by William Eubank
A cross between District 9, The Blair Witch Project, and X-Files, this new sci-fi thriller tries and fails to create something inventive. Nic Eastman (Brenton Thewaites), Jonah Breck (Beau Knapp), and Haley Peterson (Olivia Cooke) are three friends in the long tradition of trios–Nic and Haley are intimate while Jonah plays the lovable third wheel. The three MIT students are taking a road trip to drop Haley off in California for what appears to be a one year stint at Cal Tech. They are also being goaded by an anonymous individual alias Nomad, who they agree to track down in Nevada en route. This Nomad hacked their school servers and is now communicating with them. They track Nomad’s signal to an abandoned shack and then the craziness begins.
Nic wakes up to find himself in a wheelchair, brought in for periodic meetings with Dr. Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne) in an underground U.S. government lab staffed by people in radiation suits. Nic learns right from the start that he made contact with an alien–so much for suspense. But knowing that aliens are involved actually only thickens the plot since this lab doesn’t seem to be all that it’s made out to be.
The foreboding music, the slow trickle of information, and the disturbing contrast between Damon’s cool demeanor and Nic’s slow descent into insanity are the perfect mixture, left simmering on stunning visuals that boast William Eubank’s skills at cinematography. Then everything goes downhill. After “the big reveal,” there’s not much left to keep our attention. Sure, we’re interested in what’s going to happen, but remaining twists (and there are many) in The Signal do not deliver on the elegant buildup.
Nonetheless, the feeling of The Signal is admirable. We are kept on our toes, trying to piece together the bits of truth we are given. The film taps into our curiosity and the feeling that there’s more than meets the eye. We question our assumptions. Is Damon who he says he is? Why is Haley in a coma? Is Jonah actually real? Are they even in Nevada? Though we are tempted to ask, we unfortunately get very few answers. Some films can pull off leaving an audience chewing on unsolved mysteries, but The Signal is not one of them. We are left wondering if the creators even have a coherent mystery to be solved in the first place.