Overview - The Signal Review
The Signal is a solid, albeit uneven science-fiction thriller focusing on the balance between intelligence and emotion. The film is crafted with technical care and explores a lot of questions that have been asked before, but looks at them from a slightly different perspective.
Plot - The Signal Review
The story of The Signal does a good job of hiding its intentions. It has a strange twist that is satisfying albeit not quite logical. Starting out the only thing that is known are that two hacker-types and one of their tag along girlfriends are searching for another hacker that is using a specific signal (that would be THE Signal). Their search triggers an event that lands them in unknown place, in a unknown situation trapped within an isolated facility. What happens here is the catalyst for the conflict, a conflict that is as much interesting as it is mysterious. This is The Signal's strongest theme, the unknown and how to cope with it.
As the plot seems to unravel itself, at first it only develops more intrigue. The last frame of the film is the only time the mystery is finally revealed (whether it answers the questions the film asks is up to the viewer). Towards the beginning of the third act however, there is quite a bit of slow down, much of it seemingly filler. There is hardly any new ground covered and it seems to be there ultimately to buy time before the action picks up and the story is moving forward again. As far as plot goes, it's the biggest misstep but it's fairly significant. The characters, and the audience along with them, are discovering more and more at such a brisk pace, that the sudden stoppage in the revelations is jaunting. Luckily, it doesn't account for much of the film. The third act ends well from here, as many of the mysteries are answered, the themes are addressed and finally the promise of action and the character's displaying new attributes are exhibited.
Outside of the third act halt, The Signal's mystery, setting and characters keep the plot moving forward. The questions asked about if something is possible versus if you'd want them to be, is a common theme, one ultimately left up to the viewer in the end. Is ignorance bliss or is hindsight 20/20?
Cinematography - The Signal Review
Despite a relatively low budget, The Signal boasts beautiful cinematography. Both exterior and interior establishing shots showcase clean, well thought-out sets or quiet but impressive landscapes. There are several slow-motion scenes, that while slightly clichéd, are extremely high definition in showing extreme detail. While there is use of computer generated imagery, it is so subtle and works with the practical effects spectacularly, even and especially during these slow-motion sequences.
There is also an excellent contrast between the flashbacks of running through a forest, a government complex and a desert landscape. Each is brought out well, almost to the point of over playing each settings tones, but not quite. The starkness in variation helps to aid the themes and each represents a change in character traits and thought process.
Music - The Signal Review
The score is noticeable throughout, but does not necessarily stand out. The few action sequences are accentuated well as the music is highly original (except for several licensed songs). Similarly to the cinematography, there is an obvious contrast in music between settings. It all works together well, but only well. Despite the originality, some of the score is generic. An oxymoron, to be fair, the best way of putting it would be the construction and instruments used in creating the music are original, the composition itself is generic. This is a minor gripe in an otherwise well composed assortment of music.
Performance - The Signal Review
Despite the star power of Laurence Fishburne, who gives a fine pperformance here, most of the weight falls onto Brenton Thwaites. His character, Nic, goes through a transformation unlike any other in The Signal and Thwaites does a wonderful job of portraying that. His conviction is a must because the unbelievable is presented to him, but Nic's past trauma also numbs him to it ever-so-much . In addition, Nic is also worried about his friends, which takes precedence over the mystery of the signal. Thwaites shows these emotions well as he must portray the full gamut by The Signal's end.
Nic's fellow hacker and friend, Jonah, portrayed by the up and coming Beau Knapp, has a strange character arc, as he seemingly disappears and reappears without complete explanation. Suffice it to say, he becomes a changed man, a worried man, and Knapp does his best to add realism to his metamorphosis. The same however, cannot be said about the other lead, Olivia Cooke, who plays Hayley. Cooke's acting is fairly leaden. Much of it is to no fault of her own, as many times she's simply playing the damsel in distress or expressing the audience's fears. Cooke does excel in a few scenes expressing herself against Nic feeling sorry for himself. It's in these few moments when the Hayley character is actually fleshed out. It's just a shame that the rest of the film she is reduced to such a clichéd, archaic female role.
The Signal Review Reflection
The Signal had no wide-release, a fate that many small budget fare share. Despite this, The Signal does well to overreach and present a beautiful looking picture combined with a film that asks universal questions in a decidedly interesting way. It has to be said that there are some flaws in the pacing and some in the acting that can be contributed to the script much of the time. There are still a plethora of good ideas in The Signal, and while the questions asked and the themes addressed aren't necessarily answered, the ideas behind them are there to be discussed. The Signal is an excellent and undeserved piece of science-fiction that deserves a bigger audience.