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The Signal (Review)

"As well as great looking sets, what I found really impressive was the stunning array of special effects the team put together."

by Nav Qateel

Nic's girlfriend Haley is heading off to a new college in California, with Nic and his best bud Jonah driving her there. When an exceptionally brilliant hacker going by the name Nomad, begins to send a signal aimed at catching Nic and Jonah's attention, the suitably impressed pair discover the source of the signal isn't all that far.

The boys persuade Haley to take a detour, and when they eventually locate the signal's point of origin, it turns out to have come from an old run-down and abandoned shack with no signs of life. Haley, who had been left in the RV, begins screaming, and when the guys run outside to find out why, there's a quick flash and then ... nothing. Nic finds himself coming to alone and unable to move. He's now in some sort of brightly lit clinical-like facility, where all the staff wear space suits. Dr Wallace Damon begins to question Nic but he won't answer any of his questions, adding to the mystery of where they are and what happened to his friends.

The Signal
Directed by William Eubank
Cast Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Laurence Fishburne
Release Date 13 June 2014
Nav's Grade: B-

Co-written by Carlyle Eubank, David Frigerion and director William Eubank, The Signal is one of those sci-fi mysteries that doesn't appear all that difficult to solve, nor is it intended to be. Rather, it relies on how well the reveal is delivered than the act itself, all thanks to Eubank's excellent understanding of composition. As with many cinematographer's who've turned to directing sci-fi, the resulting movie is a thought-provoking feast for the eyes. While visually The Signal never faltered, the same cannot be said of the writing, which was uneven in places and the weakest part of the film. I speak mainly of the characters themselves and their behaviour when placed in such a situation. For me, that lost the film a few points, however, it certainly didn't take too much away from the overall effect.

Brenton Thwaites plays Nic Eastman, a young man we see early on running to keep in shape, but now Nic can't walk without the aid of crutches. He's slowly getting worse and will eventually be wheelchair-bound. Thanks to his worsening condition and the fact girlfriend Haley Peterson (Olivia Cooke) will be hundreds of miles away for the next year at college, a somewhat petulant Nic feels it's best they break up. When the "event" occurs at the old shack, where Nic suddenly finding himself at a mysterious clinic, sitting in a wheelchair with his legs covered, his general attitude and following behaviour felt a bit contrived, and at times, forced. But maybe it was just me.

The lovely and very talented Olivia Cooke played Haley, but the actress was wasted on such a role, as she spent a lot of the time lying horizontal and unconscious in a hospital bed. There's even a lengthy escape scene, where Haley is called on to lie still in the bed in question while being dragged around the facility. Ultimately, Cooke's character appeared to only exist within the narrative as a means of getting Nic and Jonah to the shack, and to provide the targeted demographic with compulsory and much welcomed eye-candy. Beau Knapp's character Jonah had little to do after the first act, but Knapp performance, while not exactly memorable, was certainly sound.

Laurence Fishburne's character Dr Wallace Damon was all business, and his job was to get as much information from Nic as possible. Sometimes the doc would wire Nic up to a polygraph, then ask him seemingly odd questions, like; "Do you come from Earth?" Damon's role appeared to be key to the whole affair, but what's his real agenda? In such a high-tech environment, Damon uses an old tape-recorder to record their sessions. Why? And then there's the fact he uses a ballpoint pen to make notes, and he even brings the pen to Nic's, and our, attention. Again, why use this technology when surely more advanced is available? Fishburne played this role as straight-laced as I've ever seen him perform, and even with only his face visible the entire time, his screen presence was as potent as ever.

As well as great looking sets, what I found really impressive was the stunning array of special effects the team put together. And all this was achieved on a budget of only $4 million, making it all the more impressive. Not every cinematographer can make a good director, but when they do succeed they do it in style. The most recent example has to be the Oscar-winning Wally Pfister, whose directorial debut was the Johnny Depp starrer Transcendence. Then we have the likes of Jan de Bont and Barry Sonnenfeld. Can William Eubank join their ranks? I certainly think so.

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