The Signal (2007)
By: Julian on August 7, 2009  | 
Asylum (Australia), Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English subtitles. 99 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry
Starring: Anessa Ramsey, Sahr, AJ Bowen, Matt Stanton
Screenplay: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry
Country: USA
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The Signal opens on New Year's Eve in the fictitious town of Terminus (it's Atlanta, the city the filmmakers lived in; Atlanta changed its name from Terminus in the mid 1800s) and introduces Mya (Anessa Ramsey), who is having some by-the-moonlight canoodling with her lover Ben (Justin Welborn). Mya, however, is married to Lewis (AJ Bowen), who is emotionally, and possibly physically, abusive.

On that fateful New Year's Eve, Mya and Ben decide to run away together and Mya returns to her apartment to pick up a few things. There, Lewis is watching a game with some friends on a TV that's getting faulty reception – when Mya comes in, Lewis is overbearingly suspicious of what she's been doing but eventually drops his relentless questioning. As Mya gathers her things, she finds Lewis transfixed to a colourful sequence of static being broadcast on the TV and he soon engages one of his friends in an argument, which culminates in Lewis beating his head in with a baseball bat. The second friend, Rod, restrains Lewis as Mya escapes. She soon discovers that everyone in the apartment building is having similar psychotic episodes and she barricades herself inside the apartment of a murdered woman in order to stay safe.

The source of the problem, Mya discovers, are the colourful, psychedelic transmissions that are being broadcast over all telecommunications devices – phones, TVs, and radios are all affected. The transmissions take over the victim's emotional and mental faculties, turning some into neurotic messes but most into vicious homicidal maniacs. Thematically, then, The Signal is not altogether different to Stephen King's novel Cell, which pre-dated this movie by a year.

When the situation in the apartment block dies down a bit, Mya meets up with Rod, and they both escape to find safety. Meanwhile, both Ben, who has remained unaffected by the transmissions, and Lewis, who has escaped from the duct-tape Rod had set him in, are after Mya.

The Signal was written and directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry and produced by Alex Motlagh, three Atlanta-based indie filmmakers. It's also the second feature for their production company POPfilms after the David Carradine vehicle Last Goodbye, which was critically acclaimed on the festival circuit and was directed by Gentry. The Signal was made on $50,000 over thirteen days, and premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in January. It opened in theatres over a year later, tripling its production costs in its opening weekend and grossing almost $250,000.

The film is divided into three parts, or transmissions, each tackled by one of the directors – the first is detailed in the synopsis of this review, the second follows Lewis' efforts to track down Mya and the third trails Ben. Each segment, however, uses a very different horror style – the first a fairly conventional horror film played quite straight, the second a sharp and witty horror-comedy and the third is a surreal, trippy sort of exercise that climaxes in a quasi-love story. According to the film's website, this structure was the result of a project called Exquisite Corpse, where one of the director's would begin a segment of the film then pass it on to another, and so on until the project was completed. As disjointed as that may sound, The Signal flows surprisingly well, with the directorial styles quite seamless. This is surely down to some pretty terrific production by Motlagh, who later said in an interview with CinemATL Magazine, "I think it worked on this project because, with these guys, there was a history, there was dialogue with them, and I also speak the same language."

The Signal, which was released as a rental on Madman's "Asylum" imprint in March, is probably one of 2009's most solid indie horror offerings. It crumbles towards the middle of the third act during some pretty ridiculous and outright weak sequences (that said, the weirdness probably made the segment the toughest to put to film), but all in all it's a pretty exceptional film – grisly, well-acted and, particularly in the first and second acts, very successful examples of scary, atmospheric horror, and blackly funny horror. Recommended.
Picture is presented in 1.78:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It's of pretty top quality. The film was shot digitally.
One English 5.1 Dolby track, which sounds fine.
Extra Features
A pretty decent collection of special features has been included here. There's an audio commentary with the directors, a 15-minute making of featurette, three "extra transmissions" (which are just deleted scenes) and three other deleted scenes, the latter set introduced by Dan Bush, a stills gallery and a theatrical trailer. Trailers for other Asylum releases are also included.
The Verdict
An interesting and inventively constructed horror film, this is one Signal well worth picking up.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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