The Signal (2007)
Having been educated and working in several forms of science there is one thing that I found is true. In order to make progress you have to experiment. Most of those experiments will fail but an intelligent person will observe the failures and learn from them. After all when Paul Ehrlich was working on Salvarsan, a cure for syphilis he originally called it compound 606. He had 605 failures before getting it right. While admittedly not as important to the human condition as curing disease film makers also have to engage in experimentation to allow the art of cinema too advance. As with scientific experimentation most attempts to blaze a new way in film fall flat. The thing is credit has to be given to the attempt. This is the case with the latest film in the much overused horror genre, ‘The Signal’. Horror flicks today are mostly cut from the same bloody piece of cloth. Even fans of the genre would be hard pressed to tell the difference from one to another. ‘The Signal’ may ultimately fall short as a movie but it has a creative idea that at least separates it from the ever growing pack. It was split into three parts. Each segment was directed by a different director without any consultation or input from each other. The directors, all Atlanta filmmakers; David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush each take their own view of the same basic story and add their own personal twist to their installment. They also each wrote the screenplays for their section so they controlled almost every aspect.
The foundation of this experimental, triptych film is one that has been used many times in the past. Without warning all television, radio and cell phone transmissions have a signal embedded in them that transforms affected people into mindless, zombie like killers. There is really no genre that this film neatly fits into. There is a touch of romance, lots of blood and gory and elements of a dark comedy satire of the zombie genre. One problem inherent in a presentation like this is keeping up the momentum of the story. They start out with a reasonably taut zombie movie but then transition into the parody of the genre. I can understand their concept and rational for this but it breaks the flow of the story and makes it almost impossible for the third and final segment to get back on track. This is made worse by having the romance portion as the finale. It may have been better if possible to start off with the dark comedy, move to the romance and pound the audience with all out horror at the end. Once you see the film in its entirety it is clear why they chose the order they did; it may have had its problems but it was the most logical way to go. The directors first grab you attention with the horror. This is needed to set up the basis of the dark comedy. Then, once you have become familiar with the main character it is possible to move over to the romance; bad for keeping the film’s pace but better in the way of telling a story.
Transmission One: Crazy in Love
Directed and written by David Bruckner.
The segment has the look and feel of the early horror flicks of the seventies. There is a grittiness to the video that harkens back to the old 16mm stock often used then. It opens with a woman; her face badly damaged trying to hide behind a tree. A man, presumably her husband, comes after her; grins manically and beats her to death as a younger woman tied up near by watches helplessly. There is a good old fashion grindhouse look as the scantily dressed girl tries to get a hold of wire cutters to free herself from the barbwire around her. This is homage to the cleavage and blood that made those films so much fun to watch. The picture is damaged with many drop outs and some sort of light show type display. As it turns out we are not watching this film, it is a movie on TV within the flick. The camera pulls back to show a couple in the aftermath of passion; Ben (Justin Welborn) and Mya (Anessa Ramsey). She is cheating on her husband Lewis (AJ Bowen). It is New Year’s Eve and Mya has to rush back to her husband. Ben talks her into leaving him and they make plans to catch a train out of the city, Terminus. It turns out that the phone is also out; also with a strange signal. Mya leaves and goes to her car. Off in a corner of the paring lot a man sits on the ground. He asks her for help and reluctantly she goes over to him. A man just attacked him for no reason. Just then another man is a few yards away shouting. As both men move towards Mya she panics and gets in her car to escape. He gets back to her apartment house and while things superficially look normal a lot of people seem to be arguing. Well, it turns out that the disruption of the TV, radio and cell phones disseminated a signal that doesn’t quite turn people into zombies, per say, but it does make them lose rational control and develop a perchance for extreme violence along with a ton of paranoia. The big problem is there is not defining way to a priori tell if someone is affected. That is until they try to kill you. People cannot even tell with certainty if they are infected; are you crazy or just think you are crazy, that is the question.
Transmission 2: Jealousy Monster
Directed and written by: Jacob Gentry
Anna (Cheri Christian) is one of the tenants in Mya’s building. All she had wanted to do was to have a successful New Year’s Eve party when the TV and phones went on the fritz. It opens with Anna sitting at the table across from her husband who seems bloody and dead, telling him it is not the right time for a party. Since she has just killed her husband she is probably correct. At the door is Clark (Scott Poythress), the landlord who has just witnessed complete mayhem in the hallways of his building. The flashback to just before Anna and hubby were infected. He turns away from the signal on the TV and tries to strangle Anna. She takes the pump she was using to blow up balloons and kills hum.
Transmission 3: Escape from Terminus
Directed and written by: Dan Bush
In this final segment Ben and Clark are out looking for Mya. They have to convince Lewis that the signal is to blame and help him snap out of its affects. This is the more romantic of the three as Ben tries to find his lover and Lewis attempts to get his wife back. As with the previous two sections there is more than enough blood and guts to keep the die hard horror fan happy. Like a lot of films of this genre the movie just loses its way and is unable to properly conclude; it just sorts of drifts off.
This is a noble experiment and demonstrates that the three men who started are talented and imaginative. The DVD is from Magnolia who is a great source of little Indy films like this that you most likely never heard about. This film was made for about $50,000 and shot in 13 weeks. Considering these restraints they did very well. I look forward to the future projects of these three men.