The Signal (2014) – Review

Directed by William Eubank
Written by David Frigerio, Carlyle Eubank, William Eubank
Starring Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne

Well, that was a turn up. I’m not sure how keen you would be if someone said you should watch a sci-fi thriller with a four million dollar budget and only a couple of names you’ll have actually heard of. To be honest, I wasn’t keen either, but this is the reason we do what we do. On occasion, you get rewarded, just enough, to keep you coming back to stuff you previously had no clue about. We are cinematic prospectors, if you like. We don’t always find gold, very rarely in fact, but sometimes we get a tiny nugget that makes us all keep searching. The Signal is one of those little nuggets.
This really shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. It’s not exactly a new or original idea. The premise of putting three friends in a car and sending them off into the middle of nowhere for terrible things to happen to them is now nothing if not well worn. Hints of Cabin In The Woods are prevalent as a seemingly inocuous adventure to catch a playful computer hacker leads our unfortunate victims to a dilapidated and apparently abandoned outhouse, the origin of ‘the signal’ they are following. But just like the aformentioned cabin, there is much more going on here than meets the eye.
After waking up, we find one of the party, Nick (Thwaites) in an interrogation room, groggy and confused, unable to move his legs. Sitting opposite, fully kitted out in a biohazard suit, is Damon (Fishburne), who appears to be far more informed about current events than anyone, but is decidedly reticent to spill the beans. He has some questions for Nick and also a few clues to calm the jangling nerves of his latest bewildered guest.
And we are as lost as poor Nick, none the wiser as to just what the hell is going on, though we are to be drip-fed the plot as the groups’ incarceration continues. What we learn is more and more unbelievable, but the film never goes so far as to make this comical or impossible to swallow. The anchor here is a great, straight-faced performance from Fishburne, who goes about his business with dutiful care and consummate professionalism, it seems.
The whole cast, in fact, should be proud of their efforts and as a group of players they provide solid performances in a vehicle that could easily allow them to overact and end up in a parody of previous projects with bigger budgets and ideas that are just as lofty as those approached here. But William Eubank reins them in just enough, along with the plot, to keep the audience ticking over nicely.

Rarely is a scene wasted and given the budget, this should come as no surprise. Having little money, after all, is the best way to ensure you take good care of it and ensure value for money, which is certainly what has happened here.

In all, an unoriginal idea played with relish most notably by Fishburne, who appears to be having great fun here, even if it rarely shows on his face. The cast is solid and the narrative intriguing enough to keep you hooked throughout. If you want an example of what can be achieved in science-fiction with a modest budget, you could do much worse than give this an airing. After some of the dross we’ve had to endure this year in the genre, this is a satisfying surprise.

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