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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.26%
Average: 26.09%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 2.17%

7 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Signal, The
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by Tony Hansen

"It puts the hysterical back into hysteria!"
4 stars

Let’s go on record: using garden shears to snip the neck of your wife is NOT an appropriate outlet for anger. Bashing a loved one in the head with a baseball bat is NOT a tolerable way to end an argument. Violence? Not good. Brutality? Forget about it. But in "The Signal" shedding the blood of your neighbor is an acceptable form of human expression. Killing your family members is a necessity – if they seem to deserve it. These characters don’t get mad; they get even – again and again and again.

In fact, so pervasive is the brutality that The Signal becomes more about survival than the time-consuming emotion of misery. And with this reality, of course, enter the film’s ideas. Dripping with satire and surprising originality, The Signal is a lesson in genre deconstruction. It teaches as much as it entertains. Nearly singular in its intelligence, The Signal is a fresh example of imagination winning over budget.

Now, certainly, the film doesn’t appear unique. Some may squabble over The Signal’s apparent similarities to Stephen King’s addition to the oeuvre of transmissions-that-madden fiction, The Cell. These people may be correct. Both the novel and the film share a basic premise. A transmission of unknown origin is being sent out through popular contemporary communication devices. Those who come in contact with this transmission lose their humanity and become bloodthirsty killers. However, any accusation of plagiarism is arguable, as each project must have come to fruition at the same time. Surely, the parallels are unfortunate for the filmmakers (David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry) and for King. Allegations of cribbing will inevitably surround the release of The Signal. And, as the film has already been made, King will have to deal with the unfortunate fact that The Cell may not be joining his thousands of other book-to-film adaptations.

Regardless of any controversy, The Signal, in its own right, deserves to be lauded. The film, itself, is divided into three chapters, each being directed by a different person. The first chapter lays out the central elements of the plot. The film’s heroine, Mya (Anessa Ramsey) is deciding whether or not to leave her husband. As these events unfold, her world begins to crumble. A mysterious signal is being transmitted through phones and television. Those who come in contact with this signal get “the crazy,” a term used in the film to denote the relative erosion of a person’s ability to control their anger. Total carnage ensues. People become infuriated over petty problems and begin to kill one another. Husbands attack wives. Neighbors attack neighbors.

While the story may seem rote in this age of zombie apocalypse films, the particular intelligence of The Signal is that the audience is never allowed to know specifically who has the crazy and to what extent. The film, then, really isn’t about carnage. It’s about paranoia. No character in the film desires to rip the flesh off another and eat them, nor could you even correctly refer to any of the characters as creatures or monsters. In reality, The Signal is populated by people with feelings, albeit intense and overblown feelings. One of the tired issues of contemporary horror films is that they tend to focus on outsider antagonists who are unknowable. The current fad of torture movies emphasizes the terror of the unreasonable. Each monster is only a monster because their motivations cannot be understood. Essentially, just as the protagonists become distanced from their attackers, so does the viewer lose his/her ability to know the torturer. There is no betrayal of trust. There is only the question, why?

The Signal tells the viewer to ask, “who?” In a bit of, perhaps, Hitchcockian fun, at the end of the first chapter, the filmmakers decide to take their heroine completely out of the film. The viewer is left with no one with whom they can identify. Every character is insane. The only question is, who is the most insane? The result of this disappearance of any moral compass is a comedy of violence that makes the Three Stooges look like sleeping kittens. And unlike the antics of Larry, Curly and Moe, the segment is actually quite funny. As each character tries to rationalize why they are not crazy, the viewer can clearly see by the mounting body count that they are, in fact, all crazy. Throughout this sequence, the viewer expects a possible hero to emerge, but the filmmakers have cleverly taken away any hope of salvation. With a safety net gone, the effect is both exhilarating and uproarious. Say goodbye, rationality. Here comes insanity.

Of course, this second chapter seems to show that the filmmakers want to attack genre conventions. However successful they are in this pursuit, what’s truly fascinating about the film is the way that it plays with social concepts, specifically the desensitizing power of pop culture. Just as many criticize film and television for corrupting society, so too do Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry seem to indict our obsessive hunger for entertainment. Again, the very premise of the film suggests this. The crazy comes from watching television. The more one watches, the crazier one becomes. In The Signal, the televisions are always on even though there is no programming. Society begins to kill itself simply because people do not wished to simply push an “off” button. More importantly, however, the filmmakers are knowingly undercutting this snooty didacticism and replacing it with sarcasm. After all, they did make a movie with an overwhelming amount of violence and they are presenting it to the world on televisions and movie screens. They made exactly the movie that moralizing social critics hate – one that is heedlessly and often hilariously violent. Both mocking and self-mocking, The Signal carries this enormous irony into the realm of satire. It kills two birds with one stone. By portraying television as the root of insanity, the film accuses this form of media of being destructive. By being destructive itself, the film points a hypocritical and tongue-in-cheek finger inward.

Unfortunately, the last chapter of the film is the weakest of the three. While the first sequence builds the tension of the film and the second provides comic relief, the final sequence tiredly drags the film to the finish line. The ending becomes needlessly cryptic and certain directorial decisions are made that seem clichéd. Considering the unyielding violence of most of the film, the conclusion is relatively tame. It’s a sad finale to a film that fulfills so much of its promise.

Ultimately, "The Signal" succeeds in giving giggles, thrills, and chills. Today, assertions abound that T.V. rots your brain. But, in "The Signal", it can also make you want to kill your girlfriend. Again, let’s go on record: that’s not a good thing. Don’t become killers because of movies, boys and girls. Only let those films with hugs and kisses influence your life. Be good. Be safe. That is all. XOXOXO

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originally posted: 05/18/07 12:50:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell IT SUCKS 1 stars
1/06/09 FrankNFurter Shocking,artistic,disturbing horror/sci-fi.Like Night of the Living Dead on acid. Must see! 5 stars
10/22/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
6/13/08 ES Was good, a bit over the top and confusing at moments 4 stars
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  22-Feb-2008 (R)
  DVD: 10-Jun-2008



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