Wednesday, June 11, 2014

William Eubank's visually stunning THE SIGNAL: Be careful what you hack into, techno experts!

A few years back Gareth Edwards' Monsters appeared on the movie scene, heralding a fellow who showed us he could do a whole lot with very little -- budget-wise, anyway. I was not much of a fan of that film although I did love the amazing finale. This year, we have another movie I suspect will help its creator(s) find more work in Hollywood by offering up a low-budget sci-fi movie that may be slow-going and somewhat repetitive as it moves along but opens up into a crackerjack finale that looks simply fabulous, albeit perused and reworked from a number of other fantasy films. (This is something Monsters did not do: Whatever you felt about the movie as a whole, its ending was an original).

THE SIGNAL, directed and co-written (with Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio) by William Eubank (shown at right), gives us three college-age hackers -- the guy, Nic (played by Brenton Thwaites, below, foreground); the girl, Haley (Olivia Cooke); and the guy's dorky best friend, Jonah (Beau Knapp, below, background) -- off on a journey to track down a particular signal they think belongs to someone who has already hacked into prominent "secure" sites and so is perhaps their prime competition. Where this takes our three fills up the remainder of the movie and is relatively interesting. For awhile. Of course, something strange and unsettling occurs -- this is a thriller of sorts, after all -- and our characters find themselves imperiled and imprisoned. But why? Ah-hah! So this is one of those What's going on here? movies.

A few scraps are fed us, but unfortunately, we spend so much time in the sterile, white-on-white, hospital-like environment that hosts the very long middle section of the movie that the old Harry-Cohen-test of the antsy posterior kicks in. And in. And in.

The widescreen cinematography (by David Lanzenberg) makes fine use of both the outdoor scenes and the sci-fi-like interiors, and the performances are fine, so far as they go (which is not very).

Thwaites (above) is initially disabled, properly confused and then super macho, while Knapp (below) proves dorky and nutty by turns. The moviemakers unfortunately are following in the leaden footsteps of Hollywood's males-in-charge by giving the lovely Ms Cooke (at bottom) nearly nothing to do but whine a bit initially, loll around in a coma, and then be endangered and frightened. What a waste.

The ending is indeed a whopper of special effects to not much effect. This is yet another example of a movie's content being too meager to support its running time. The Signal might have made a good half-hour segment of The Twilight Zone. Instead we get three times that length -- just so we can be impressed with the razz-a-ma-tazz ending?

From Focus Features and running 97 minutes, The Signal opens this Friday, June 13, in New York and environs (at various AMC and Regal theaters), all over the Los Angeles area (at various AMC, Laemmle, Pacific and Regal venues) and in the Chicago area (at AMC theaters in Chicago, Skokie and South Barrington). Check your local listings for specifics.

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