Thursday, November 12, 2015

In short: The Signal (2014)

After the first half an hour of its running time or so, I was prepared to praise William Eubank’s SF film for some fine direction, some more than decent acting by Brenton Thwaites, and the promise of something clever. The next twenty-five minutes or so even strengthened that impression, and I was all set for a clever and stylish take on a cross of an alien abduction movie with a bit of the X-Men, perhaps even with a good bit of SF philosophy.

Alas, then the rest of the film happened, and what I took for style turned out to be a case of cargo cult filmmaking that takes the signifiers of better movies but misses their points. Pointless Lynchisms meet a story that goes for your classical mindfuck movie but misses out on the part about these films where they actually need to make sense according to a logic of their own (in The Signal, there’s really no sense to make, because it finds its SURPRISE ENDING too important). Ridiculous slow-motion scenes are supposed to produce an emotional impact they can’t have because the script never bothered to establish emotional stakes or characters who are more than their relations to a main character who himself becomes increasingly uninteresting; the female lead Olivia Cooke is only there to open her as eyes wide and to be dragged around by our male main character (often literally so). And that SURPRISE ENDING is just crap of the kind that pretends to have some deeper meaning but doesn’t go beyond the mere gestures of a DEEP EMOTIONAL AND INTELLECTUAL IMPACT. I’m shouting this because that’s exactly what the direction does, most probably to distract from the fact there’s really very little of impact on screen here, and the whole affair has about the intellectual depth of a really bad SyFy original movie – only with the little difference that those films don’t have pretensions of being more than a bit of a fun time for their audience.

This makes The Signal particularly useless in a time when intelligent indie SF is actually a cinematic thing, and when the big superhero blockbusters have a bit of a brain, ambition and a heart to their brawn too. It’s just pointless and – I’m surprised I can actually use the word the way it’s meant to be used – pretentious.

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