Signal (2008)
Directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry

Starring A. J. Bowen Anessa Ramsey Chad McKnight Cheri Christian Justin Welborn Sahr Ngaujah Scott Poythress

Probably the most intelligent horror film since David Cronenberg stopped making horror movies, "The Signal" tackles some pretty familiar fear film themes in the post-Iraq horror era we're in. Like "28 Weeks Later" and Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" remake, it's set in a world where homicidal anarchy has taken over. Only this time around, the killers are not deformed, running zombies. They're actually the protagonists in the movie. We get to become witness to the rationalizing they go through when they're killing people. Like "Pulp Fiction," it features multiple stories from multiple points of view.

The film opens with a joke horror film a torture porn-like fear film in the vein of a bad "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" clone playing on a widescreen TV. The TV goes blank, replaced by a "signal" that turns the screen into a psychedelic mindscape. We then meet the two leads, a relatively young guy (Justin Welborn) and his gorgeous girlfriend (Anessa Ramsey), whom we learn is married to another guy.

After she leaves his apartment, the shit really starts to hit the fan, however. She's confronted by two bloody lunatics in the basement parking garage in a scene that reminded me a bit of the similar opening of "Day X" before heading home to her uber-possessive husband (AJ Bowen) who's having some boys over to watch a game. Naturally, the TV doesn't work. Neither do any telephones or cel phones.

Needless to say, things start to go horrifically wrong in their apartment when her husband goes homicidal with a baseball bat following an argument with his friends. She runs out into the hall to find out that the same thing is happening throughout the building: People are killing one another with any weapon they can find.

After hiding out in her neighbor's apartment for the night, she's kidnapped but one of her husband's friends who ties her up until he can determine that she's trustworthy. Then, realizing she's not a maniac like the others, he unties her. But over time she realizes that this man is a madman too.

What's brilliant about "The Signal" is you aren't sure who's a bad guy or a good guy, until you realize that actually everyone has gone mad. If everyone in a city is apparently homicidal, you'd have to become a killer yourself in order to survive. But, at that point, how could anyone figure who the crazy people are and who the people that are just fighting too survive? You can't. That's the whole point of "The Signal."

This is the kind of insane situation the U.S. is in Iraq, of course, where we have to make deals with our enemies and where you can't tell who's a suicide bomber and who isn't, whose an insurgent or a military ally?

What's amazing about "The Signal" is how it really gets into the minds of the madmen. Divided into three segments, each of which was helmed by a separate director, the film seamlessly comes together into a whole that, from a narrative perspective, might be a bit reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." The segments feel somewhat different (the middle story about a cocktail party gone wrong is funnier than the other two), but it all comes together so well you don't feel like you watched a film made by different people. The story ultimately revolves around the love triangle that developed in the opening scene.

Unlike the rabid maniacs of "28 Weeks Later," these crazies actually rationalize their actions. When they kill someone, they have a motivation and a reason they've thought about. The filmmakers actually manage to get into their heads to show what they're thinking. All the characters even the madmen -- are three dimensional.

All the performances are excellent and, surprisingly given the film's shoe-string budget, you walk away with a real sense that you witnessed what an apocalypse could look like. This film is way better than the "Dawn of the Dead" remake that hit theaters a few years ago and is probably better than "28 Weeks Later" too. There is much to compare to films by David Cronenberg, most notably "Videodrome" about another killer video signal and "Rabid." But it's way too humorous to be mistaken for a Cronenberg film.

To make a long story short, "The Signal" an absolute must see. A sequel may be in the works if "The Signal" performs well at the box office.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

USER COMMENTS

Posted by Cinefantastique on February 16, 2008
Just wanted to say, "Right on!" Excellent review!


Posted by Call BS on March 4, 2008
Read Steven King's Cell. Its the book that they STOLE this movie's plot from.


Posted by wally on April 8, 2008
they didn't steal a damn thing. king was writing his book at the same time they were filming the signal. and if you've read the damn book, you'd know that the only thing they have in common is the cell phones. king's plot takes a much different path than the movie. so, no Call BS. Call do some research.


Posted by Disagree... on June 12, 2008
...the three different directors resulted in a very uneven film. There was no tonal structure to hold things together. Not a horrible movie, but i certainly wouldn't put it as a must see.


Posted by E.King on January 22, 2009
Actually, it WAS stolen from Stephen King's novel "The Cell" and a law -suit is being negoitiated as this is written (read: the film makers are SETTLING as they are guilty of Plagarisim and all the other unethical crap that Hollywood likes to get itself into) King wrote his book way before it was published, but that is a mote point as he "won" (read: they settled as they were guilty and didn't want the bad publicity of a lawsuit), it is almost Identical to the ENTIRE plot, of his novel except for a few scenes and its "polictical" claptrap "message" ruined the book and mess-up the chance for a good authorized movie for awhile!


Posted by dannx68 on July 30, 2009
Well, Cell sucked, The Signal sucked. Started out good enough and held my interest even during the funny middle...but then it just became stupid and boring. And again....WHY is it we should root for people who cheat on their spouses??


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