When it came to horror films at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, it was a disaster of tremendous proportions. All three films failed to generate the monster buzz that SAW, WOLF CREEK and HAUTE TENSION did years before them. I was so disappointed last year that I was actually nervous promoting THE SIGNAL before I had even had a chance to see it – but seriously, how cool did it look? Thank god I went with my gut on this one because THE SIGNAL is going to remain THE indie horror film of 2007.
A mysterious signal is being transmitted from all media devices in the city of Terminus, provoking murder and madness within the psyches of its inhabitants. In THE SIGNAL, one man battles to save the woman he loves from the vehemence of her crazed husband. But, in order to succeed, he must first determine whom he can trust in a city where everyone appears to have succumbed to the violence of the signal–including himself.
It seems to me that every year there’s just one new low budget indie film that blows my mind, the one that I talk about non-stop until I beat it into the ground. Last year it was AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION and the year before THE ROOST, this year will no doubt be THE SIGNAL, which Magnolia Pictures will release later this year.
THE SIGNAL is broken up into three separate “transmissions”, each directed by one of the three directors (David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, Dan Bush). The film is one single story threaded perfectly together and not presented in a CREEPSHOW-like fashion, which seems to be a major misconception. The screenplay, which is also by the trio, is a perfect blend of some of the greatest horror films in the past decade. SINGAL has the post-apocalyptic feel of 28 DAYS LATER, the comedy of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and the heroic moments of Ash in the EVIL DEAD movies. People have been screaming and yelling calling it a rip-off of Stephen King’s THE CELL, only this film pre-dates King’s novel by at least a year (just to end that controversy right now).
The first transmission is our 28 DAYS LATER moment, only it’s everything you didn’t see in Danny Boyle’s film. We see the world turn to shit and watch the entire ordeal go down. We get to see the apocalypse in motion and the way it’s portrayed is absolutely terrifying. The first 30-minutes are intense, brutal, dark and completely insane. We are introduced to Mya Denton (Anessa Ramsey) and her boyfriend, and then her trip back to her husband, whom she doesn’t love anymore. She returns home to find her husband and his two friends trying to fix the TV as “the signal” is screaming across the screen. In the midst of an argument violence and chaos break out and her husband kills one of his friends. From then on out people are running up and down halls with bats, hammers and sheers killing everyone in their path – it’s absolute madness. In this segment we are introduced to the strongest character in the film, an African-American who reminds me of Ash in many senses – besides the fact that he makes his own weapon of out a light post and knives. I wanted him to be with us through the whole movie, but unfortunately his character isn’t the main focus in the film.
Once out we get to the second transmission, which is a comedy. We end up holed up in a house of a couple who were planning on throwing a New Year’s Eve party. To me this segment is the relief moment, a little time to breathe and focus. We gain new understanding of the signal and our characters are fully fleshed out. We now understand the full focus of the film, Lewis (AJ Bowen) is in search of his wife Mya (Anessa Ramsey) and the signal is telling him exactly what needs to be done to get her. This segment features many bloody moments such as two good head bashing scenes that are sure to have you screaming out loud in the theater.
Once we finally get through the laughs, we slowly transition back into the seriousness of the matter (after we see a man have a conversation with a decapitated head). The final act, or transmission, unfortunately, is the weakest link in the film. It’s incredibly difficult to end an apocalyptic film, because it’s pretty much the beginning of the story. The finale seemed a little flat and open-ended, but still was wrapped up as best as it could. Had the finale been as strong as the first two transmissions this would have been the perfect film. I think the main problem was that it was missing that “lawnmower moment” from DEAD ALIVE. We don’t get anything but someone being choked and more head smashing – nothing that topped what we had seen in the first hour of the film. But in the end I found myself hooting and clapping for I still had seen one of the most kick ass horror films in a long time, one that will rival THE CELL’s adaptation when it hits theaters sometime in 2008.
Other things that helped package this into a nearly perfect horror film was the stunning cinematography, the original score, the believable acting and the image and sound of the signal itself. The signal alone burned a lasting image in my mind, as I don’t think they could have portrayed it any better. The sound that it emitted was also skin crawling and every single time that someone was watching it I wanted to just jump through the screen and stop it.
In the end THE SIGNAL will burn it’s transmission into your brain and leave you with an impression that will never go away. This is that film that leaves you with that special glow (yes, kind of like after sex), the smile that doesn’t fade and the conversations that never cease. Eventually, THE SIGNAL will earn its place amongst the greatest cult horror films of all time.