Science Fiction is such an intriguing genre of Film/T.V., because it allows for a lot of exploration into things unknown. Most times, SciFi asks you to suspend your disbelief and just go with things (which I have no problem with). Sometimes, you’ll get SciFi films that ask you to pay attention, as they’re grounded in reality and end up saying a lot about our own humanity. It’s those rare gems that intrigue me the most, regardless of whether or not they’re perfect.
On their way to California, a group of friends spend what may be some of their last moments together, at least for some time. Nic (Brenton Thwaites) is begrudgingly taking his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) to school and their other best-friend, Jonah (Beau Knapp), is tagging along for the ride. Nic and Jonah are programmers and their ability to decipher code and uncover hackers is exceptional. So, when a mysterious hacker known as “Nomad” messes with them, they find his IP Address and make it a point to stop by his location to confront him.
Upon arriving at the supposed house of this mysterious hacker, it appears as if no one is home. This, of course, prompts Nic and Jonah to look around inside and try to find clues as to who is doing the hacking. Strange noises are heard, power fluctuates, and then everything fades to white. When Nic wakes up, he’s in a white containment room and a man named Damon (Lawrence Fishburn) introduces himself, as well as asks him some generic questions. Something about that Signal has gotten Nic and his friends into this mess, but what’s really going on here?
The Signal is a wonderful independent Sci-Fi flick that has enough going for it, making it a predominately enjoyable watch. The story certainly takes many interesting turns and while they don’t always work as well as they could, the themes explored here are certainly more intriguing than most of what we’ve had from other Sci-Fi films this year. The cast really sells the film and there is one standout performance that makes this film worth the watch. At any rate, I was always left guessing and it was nice not knowing exactly what would happen next.
Brenton Thwaites. Learn and love that name, as he’s quickly becoming one of the better rising stars of his age. With great turns in The Giver and Oculus, he adds another very strong performance to his resume with the work he does in this film. The amount of emotional instability that he brings is wonderful and his character growth is quite enjoyable to watch. His high-level intellect proves interesting and funny, while also serving as a mystery as to what is really going on. Thwaites’ ability to convey emotion is his strength and he displays that perfectly here. He also handles action sequences quite well, proving that he can do more than you’d think.
Laurence Fishburne, calm demeanor and everything, gets the chance to play a very interesting character. He says little and the little he does say is never entirely helpful to our understanding of what’s going on. There’s an aura of mystery surrounding his character and the work he’s doing and Fishburne handles everything wonderfully. Beau Knapp also does some solid work as Thwaites partner-in-crime. Knapp’s frantic nature and display of fear is enough to keep you on your toes and he and Thwaites have some great chemistry together.
Writer/Director William Eubank has crafted a film with a lot of understated beauty. While the main focus is on the story and what’s going on with this supposed signal, there’s so much work that goes into the background and the settings and it’s absolutely breathtaking. His eye for complete surroundings and how they influence the mood of the scenes works wonders with the intelligent dialogue that never gives too much away. Eubank certainly has a flair for the scientific, as evidenced by his other directorial effort Love, and his majority work as a cinematographer has certainly helped him craft a worthwhile film.
For as interesting as this film is, there are some questions left unanswered and some things aren’t explained as well as they could be. The film jumps around from point-to-point and never gets around to filling in the blanks between the journeys. As I mentioned, a lot of cool themes are explored in this film, but not all of them are explored as fully as they could have been and we’re only left with glimpses of what could have been. There is some drama in the film and I’m wishing that there was more, because those dramatic moments were really powerful and got us closer to the characters.
The Signal does take a while to get going and it never quite figures out where it’s headed, but it does offer up enough to satisfy and captivate. I enjoy the idea of independent sci-fi, because there isn’t as much effort going into effects and instead, it goes into making a solid story. Visual effects were minimal here, but the gorgeous imagery and film-making more than makes up for that, though the effects still impressed me too.
The Signal Trailer