Friday, December 18, 2015

THE SIGNAL (2014): TFK's Alien Invasion Series, Episode 5

Laurence Fishburne in a scene from the finale of THE SIGNAL (2014)

We continue the Alien Invasion Series* started on TFK's Tumblr: THE SIGNAL (PG-13, 2014). The story seems to involve a very subtle invasion -- really "only" an apparent alien abduction -- until the big reveal at the end. This sci-fi film stars three young, up-and-coming actors alongside veteran actor Laurence Fishburne.


Director William Eubank with Beau Knapp on the set of THE SIGNAL (2014)
Director William Eubank with Beau Knapp on the set of THE SIGNAL (2014)

William Eubank ("Love," 2011) directed the film, which he co-wrote with Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio. A relatively low-budget ($4 million) independent film (financed by IM Global), THE SIGNAL had its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

It won for Best Special Effects at the 2014 Sitges Catalonian International Fantastic Film Festival. It did not do well at the theater box office, grossing an estimated $2.4M worldwide during its limited theatrical run (distributed by Focus Features). It remains to be seen whether this movie will catch on in the VOD and DVD markets.

Story Teaser

Nic (Thwaites) and Jonah (Knapp) track Nomad online in THE SIGNAL (2014)
Nic (Brenton Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) track Nomad online in THE SIGNAL (2014)

Three MIT computer science students pursue a hacker named Nomad who taunts them over a successful hack of MIT's computer systems, which also affected their server and almost got them expelled.  They do so while driving cross-country on a road trip to California. Their primary purpose is to take one of them, Haley (Olivia Cooke, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," 2015) for a year at Cal Tech. Nic (Brenton Thwaites, "Oculus," 2013), her boyfriend, and Jonah (Beau Knapp, "Super 8," 2011) are nevertheless obsessed with tracking down Nomad.

Nic (Thwaites) and Haley (Olivia Cooke) work out their relationship problems in THE SIGNAL (2014)
Nic (Thwaites) and Haley (Olivia Cooke) work out their relationship problems in THE SIGNAL (2014)

Along the way, Nic and Haley deal with difficulty in their relationship. Nic has an unspecified degenerative neuromuscular disease that was recently diagnosed. It has affected his ability to walk and will eventually kill him. He seems to be using Haley's year at Cal Tech as an excuse to break up with her. He doesn't want to "hold her back," he says.

Meanwhile, Nic and Jonah believe they have discovered the hacker's location, which is in a remote area that is coincidentally a small detour from their planned route. hey decide to go there to confront Nomad. When they arrive, they discover an abandoned house in the middle of the desert. Leaving Haley behind in the locked car for safety, they explore the house. They find that there is an entrance to an underground facility of some sort in the dwelling's basement.

At this point, they hear Haley screaming. When they emerge from the house, an unseen force pulls Haley into the sky. Nic and Jonah disappear in a white light. What has happened to them? Where did they go? Who or what did this to them? Why? The answers will eventually come, in piecemeal fashion and after much suspense and action, from government scientist Dr. Wallace Damon (Fishburne, who has 102 acting credits to date, including "Apocalypse Now" [1979], "Event Horizon" [1997], and the "Matrix" films [1999, 2003]).


One of many impressive SFX sequences in THE SIGNAL (2014)

The film's flawed and thin story-line hides behind clever plot twists and impressive special effects. The latter aspect is one of THE SIGNAL's strongest features. Along with the principal cast, special effects probably used up a large portion of the film's budget.

Laurence Fishburne and Lin Shaye in THE SIGNAL
Laurence Fishburne and Lin Shaye in a scene from THE SIGNAL (2014)

Another bright spot is horror veteran Lin Shaye ("A Nightmare on Elm Street," [1984],  "Insidious" [2010]). She does a fantastic job in the cameo role of Mirabelle, an eccentric (in "Repo Man" style) desert dweller who makes an unfortunate, kindly decision to give Nic and Haley a ride in her car.

TFK notes, however, that Shaye and Cooke play women who are at the mercy of men. There are no strong female characters in this film. That said, the male characters (except Fishburne's role) are weak and indecisive young men. Fishburne does the best he can do with a rather transparently constructed part.

Finally, the musical score is original and interesting. Credit goes to film composer Nima Fakhrara, who also composed the music for creature-horror film "Exists" (2014).


While THE SIGNAL is worth a watch, it feels like as much of a "calling card" film as a feature in its own right. Director Eubank shows what he can do with a limited budget, producing a movie that is more of a vehicle for showcasing his filmmaking talent than it is a well-developed story with rounded, believable characters.

TFK's Rating (on IMDb): 4 out of 10 stars

*TFK's Alien Invasion Series

  1. CIRCLE (2015)
  3. EJECTA (2014)
  4. SKYLINE (2010)

Disclosure: TFK viewed this film on DVD (from Netflix) and wrote this review based on personal selection. No review request was involved in this choice.