Too Clever For Its Own Good
S. P. Miskowski | West Coast, US | 09/12/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry
The Signal received a fair number of critical accolades before its theatrical release. But if there is one thing I've learned about highly touted horror flicks, it is to keep an open mind no matter what other people say. The genre has many sub-categories, and some fans don't cross over. One fan's delight is another's five dollar trade-in value.
This technically expert study of mass violence is divided into a three-part structure with a different writer for each segment or transmission:
written by David Bruckner
A married woman says good night to her lover and leaves him distractedly watching TV, while a signal keeps jamming the picture, reducing it to a flashing kaleidoscope. The woman returns home to her suspicious, TV-viewing husband, who is involved in an argument that will soon escalate.
The Jealousy Monster
written by Jacob Gentry
The characters from the first segment intersect with their neighbors down the street. The neighbors have been preparing a New Year's Eve party, unaware that violence has erupted outside. Some characters realize what is happening, and others are in denial.
written by Dan Bush
Escape from Terminus
Characters from both previous segments try to outwit one another--and separate reality from their delusions--long enough to make their way out of town.
In theoretical terms, the structure is interesting. New and strange twists of fate might occur with different artists creating portions of the narrative. But forty-five minutes in, horror lapses uneasily into farce, in Trans 2.0, and leaves the blood-stained surviving characters washed up in a mundane setting.
After fumbling through a bunch of brutal, domestic misunderstandings, all is well. That is, we finally get back to the action. But the film never regains its original momentum.
In the absence of that momentum, I fall back on petty gripes:
The heroine is slow-acting to the point of being catatonic. OK, she's traumatized. But more internal stress, and more external movement, would have been more fun to watch. To be fair, none of the characters act quickly on instinct. They seem anesthetized by shock, which (again) is a better idea in theory than practice.
The description on the DVD cover and online says that a mysterious transmission is invading every cell phone, radio, and TV. But in the main story line we only see it transmitted via TV.
A lot of the people who receive the signal do not become violent and we never learn why some people do and some do not.
To understand the effect of the signal, we need one example, but the film offers one after another, without adding anything each time. The characters hallucinate, but their visions seem limited by their lack of imagination. Good idea, not that compelling to watch.
Allowing for the real possibility that I'm just too stupid to get the whole thing, I don't see any reason to have an imagined, false ending if you're not going to change it the second time around. What if Brazil came back to the starting point for the last scene again, and then offered no indication that the story would go in a different direction? It made me wonder, but not for long. When the film was over, I had finished thinking about it.
The Signal is pretty evenly divided among several characters. Each section has its humorous and engaging moments, but over-all the story suffers from the lack of a central protagonist. It wavers between social satire and love story, and never reveals enough about any one character to make their survival matter.
The DVD offers deleted scenes as well as extra transmissions, which are complete sequences taking place in other parts of the city while the main action occurs. If you want to view the story as an active landscape in which many dramas happen simultaneously, the extra transmissions add depth and complexity to the picture. But if you want to identify with someone, and if you're looking for dramatic tension in the narrative, the extras won't help."