The Signal (2014)

The Signal 2014 - poster - Laurence FishburneDirector: William Eubank

Writer: Carlyle Eubank, William Eubank, David Figerio

Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp

Cert: TBC

Running Time: 97 mins

Year: 2014

 

The lowdown: Small scale filmmaker William Eubank (Love,Crave) stretches his $4m budget to breaking point with this ambitious sci-fi flick. Boasting a hot young cast and a cold, clinical Laurence Fishburne, it’s inventive and looks the business but plays like a particularly slick episode of The Outer Limits.

The Signal - Brenton Thwaites, Olivia CookeThe Signal - Laurence Fishburne, hazmat suit

The full verdict: Not to be confused with 2007’s horror about a killer transmission, the initial set-up here is simple: three MIT students: Haley (Olivia Cooke), Jonah (Beau Knapp) and crutch-bound Nic (Brenton Thwaites) take a detour from an emotional road trip to confront a mysterious hacker.

The teen trio are engaging and Eubank allows them space to interact before separating them for most of the film’s duration, after Blair Witch-style events take a genuinely unexpected turn.

Ex-Home and Away hunk Thwaites (Maleficent, Occulus) nabs the most screen time as Nic finds himself trapped in a sterile facility observed by sinister figures in hazmat suits, lead by the cryptic Dr. Damon (Fishburne, in somnambulant, Morpheus mode).

Eubank isn’t afraid to explore grand ideas including emotion verses logic, Plato’s allegories, and that old science fiction favourite: what it means to be human.

The Signal - Brendon ThwaitesTHE SIGNAL

But, these concepts are never properly expanded as the race to the big reveal gathers momentum. The constant plot twists, while occasionally startling, become relentless.

Clues dropped throughout are not always subtle, sci-fi aficionados with an inkling of the story’s final destination may find themselves patronised.

Editor Brian Burdan worked on Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks so there’s an occasional Lynchian vibe, most notable during protean actress Lin Shaye’s (The Conjuring) delightfully odd cameo and a memorable bovine-based incident.

Eubank admirably handles budgetary restrictions by employing minimal sets, primary-coloured lighting cues and making the most of the New Mexico countryside at magic hour. Effects are used sparingly but are stylish enough to generate maximum impact.

Shame then that the end result feels more like a television pilot. With a little fine tuning, this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea.

Angela Britten