Movie Review: The Signal (2014 – Lawrence Fishburne)

Lawrence Fishburne as Damon Nomad alien AI in The Signal 2014 movie still

An unconventional sci-fi thriller for those who crave to see an unusual approach with a geeky twist

The Signal done well with only $2 million production budget

Three MIT college students on a road trip to California goes on a detour to track down a rival computer hacker named NOMAD, and end up at an abandoned house in the middle of Nevada (the state where the famous Area 51 is located in). Everything goes dark and the main character, Nic, played decently by Brenton Thwaites (Maleficent, Oculus), wakes up in a strange quarantine zone-like research facility with seemingly outdated technology that’s led by a rather emotionless Dr. Damon, played by Laurence Fishburne (The MatrixHannibal TV series).

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The cinematography and flow of this movie probably would make some viewers wonder at the beginning if this is really a sci-fi thriller. The storytelling and style are certainly unfamiliar to the film’s genre. Almost every scene outside of the “research facility” is beautifully filmed as though it’s a road trip drama with Instagram filters on. Some of the sequences seem disjointed – e.g.; laptop suddenly appearing on Nic’s bed but he doesn’t find it strange, Nic’s girlfriend’s t-shirt changes colour in the same scene. Initially I thought it’s going to mean something later, or it’s done deliberately, but at the end of it, I think those were goofs. However, director William Eubank did manage to keep the movie intriguing despite its slow pace and poorly written dialogues, but he also left too much unexplained, leaving the viewers to either believe that it’s done on purpose for open interpretation, or just carelessly neglected.

Although it may not feel as complete and brilliant as Neil Blomkamp’s 2009 Oscar-nominated independent sci-fi action thriller District 9, The Signal only had 6.7% of the production budget that District 9 had and could’ve easily been served as a spinoff. All it needs it’s more bizarre moments and action, which is what this film is lacking of. Nevertheless, it proves to be rewarding at the end with a twist that I couldn’t predict but too bad, it’s not developed or shown in a way that provides any real shock. Maybe it’s the consequence of using a geeky space-techno music during the big reveal, which is quite funny and cool at the same time, actually. Also, it’s a huge waste that the film doesn’t feature more of “Terry Bogard” and “Running High”. You’d get what I mean after watching the film if you’re know about those video games.

Brenton Thwaites as Nic screaming in The Signal 2014 - Dragon Ball Z over 9000 meme

Simply put, the film could’ve been so much more. The promise was there, but the ambition and funding were not. According to Eubank, the film was made as a metaphor for conflict between rational and emotional decision-making… but sorry, the attempt is obvious, with straightforward lines like “Are you agitated?” to Nic when he’s about to say or do something, but ultimately, it just seemed pointless. More than anything else, I saw it as a representation of a more humane way of using lab rats.

What I would’ve named the film: “Dumb Hackers & a Chick”

Censorship in Malaysia: Nothing seemed to be cut for the press screening held at GSC Mid Valley Megamall.

Second opinion: My girlfriend said, “I liked it very much. It’s interesting and the cinematography is beautiful.” But she hasn’t seen District 9.

Verdict: An intriguing if not compelling sci-fi thriller with unusual narrative and cinematography for its genre. Great concept but a lot of misses. If only it had more funding…

Rating: 3.5 / 5

The Signal 2014 movie poster malaysia
: Sci-fi thriller
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: William Eubank
Writers: Carlyle Eubank, David Frigerio, William Eubank
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Laurence Fishburne, Olivia Cooke, Robert Longstreet

Malaysia Release Date: 28 August 2014
Rated: P13
Local Distributor: GSC Movies

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