DVD Review: The Signal - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

DVD Review: The Signal

07/04/2008

This is the kind of stuff that George Romero should be doing. This is the kind of non-Hollywood, indie horror entertainment that is very suspenseful and quite interesting. What I appreciate is, at the same time, the filmmakers also recognize the inherent comedy in this post-apocalyptic, twisted, amusement park ride.

Not one, not two, but a hefty, three directors put their writing, directing, and camera operating skills together. The film was inspired by a short film directed by one of them for the 48 Hour Film Project. The short film was called "The Hap HapGood Story," and it's that story that opens this one. It's a vignette, but a very creepy one that sets the tone of the film perfectly.

This past February, the Academy Award for Best Director went to two men, the Coen brothers, a honor usually bestowed to only one. There have been many movies that have had two or more directors leading the production, most by two people who are related, like the Coens, the Wachowskis, the Hughes brothers, or the Pang brothers. It's rare, however, that multiple directors receive such a distinction.

Not that I feel the three directors here, David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, and Dan Bush, should win an Oscar, but their collective talents weave together an interesting landscape, not unlike many we've seen, but at least in a way that feels raw, if not fresh. The directors admit that this concept was conceived in 2003 before the wave of scary films that included Asian horror remakes, and Splat Pack-type films.

Nevertheless, J-horror films, as well as bloody and gory scare-fests like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes were a thematic groundwork and inspirations for their treatment here. The premise is not too dissimilar from Stephen King's recent novel Cell. It's actually not too uncommon either from the British, action, fright pick 28 Days Later.

In the fictional city of Terminus, which is actually Atlanta in disguise, on New Year's Eve, all televisions, radios, and telephones begin repeating an incoherent signal that registers as noise but could very well be a pattern. There is some speculation on the exact nature of the signal, but there is no question that this signal drives people insane, and not just insane but in fact into homicidal maniacs.

Justin Welborn and Anessa Ramsey, two relatively new actors, play Ben and Maya, respectively, two city dwellers in love with each other and having a sexual affair. The problem is that Maya is married to a very suspicious and a very jealous man named Lewis, played by newcomer, AJ Bowen.

Ben wants Maya to leave Lewis and run away with him. Maya decides to go home instead, but leaves the door open for the two of them to meet at a train station later. On the way home, a funny thing happens to Maya. People start killing each other for no apparent reason. When she gets home to Lewis, it gets worse. He gets ever the more suspicious and jealous until he has a psychotic break. Absolute carnage is unleashed and turns Maya's New Year's into the worst ever.

Now, this initial sequence of events is truly scary, but it's only one of three sections, directed by one of the three directors. The following two sections are far less scary. Yet, this is not a negative criticism. The very next section in fact is very comical. The third and last section is a mix between the two previous with a dash of romance.

While some might argue that the mixing of tones is a bit strange, here it's quite perfect. On the DVD, one of the directors rightly asserts, "Horror and comedy occupy the same space." He points out, as many others have prior, that horror and comedy are alike in that they're all about timing, and I think he along with the other two directors understand that.

The limited budget of this film drives a creativity between the three filmmakers that while, at once being overly ridiculous, also achieves a balance of suspense, humor and love that even with talking, decapitated heads is somewhat believable. It's a lot of blood and craziness, but it's fun.

Memorable scene: Lewis looks for his wife, Maya, at an apartment where a New Year's party has been interrupted.

A partygoer named Clark tries to calm Lewis who after the doorbell rings grabs a shovel.

LEWIS: Just open the door and I'll take them down.

CLARK: No. That's not the way to play this.

LEWIS: We can't be sure. We have to exterminate with extreme prejudice.

CLARK: It might be somebody who could help us. We don't know.

LEWIS: We can't risk it. I'm killing whoever walks through that door.

Four Stars out of Five
Rated R for gore, violence, nudity and language

Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.
 

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