The Signal (2014)

signalcover01Anyone who watches way too many movies and sees this poster thinks, Moon.  If you liked Moon, that’s a good thing.  If you didn’t like Moon, at least you’re in for a surprise treat with The Signal.

It starts off feeling like a thousand other horror movies, with a small group of friends on a road trip.  Somehow it has a handheld feel even though it is not handheld, and doesn’t even use the shaky-cam. Maybe because it has an unattached odd-numbered wheel character, often the camera wielder in those films.

Jonah and the couple, Nic & Haley, are driving Haley to Cal Tech.  The vibe switches gears a little, but smoothly, to techno-thriller, showing the two guys trying to track down a hacker that had targeted them at MIT.  So, no dummies these — a major deviation from most horror movies.

Then, it is back to a horror vibe as their investigation leads them on a side-trip down a dirt road ending at a dilapidated house.  They bravely search the house, even going into the Blair Witchy, Evil Deady basement.  When they hear screams from Haley, they race back to the car.  Then we do have a bit of shaky-cam action with bright lights and chaos.

signallf01Nic wakes up in government facility staffed by employees wearing hazmat suits.  Laurence Fishburne tells Nic that what they saw at the house was an EBE.  He is otherwise tight with any info about where they are or the condition of his friends.  For his part, his legs which required crutches before, seem to not be functional at all.

Nic makes an unsuccessful escape attempt with Haley in tow — literally — he is rolling out in his wheelchair with a tow-line attached to her gurney.  The attempt is so quixotic, that it almost seems like it must have been a dream; especially as numerous workers come absurdly close without spotting them.

Nic makes a shocking discovery about his condition, and attempts another unlikely escape with Haley.  This time they manage to escape the facility and find themselves in the desert.  From here they encounter some very strange locals, and they story takes another turn into the superhero / fantasy realm.

signallf02Throughout its twists, I was consistently interested and entertained.  Several reviews have complained about pacing, but I had no issues at all.  One went so far as to give the screenplay a D grade.  There certainly is a huge question at the end, but it is the kind best left to the audience to resolve for themselves.

If I had to lodge one criticism, it would be that the Haley character is pretty much a zero. She is the reason they are travelling to California, but not for any otherwise plot-relevant purpose.  She is absent or in a coma for much of the film.  She does not assist in the escapes, being literally a drag in the first attempt. While Nic and Jonah experience certain changes during their captivity, Haley really does not.  There is evidence of surgical tinkering with her body, but no overt changes as we see in the other two.  She is Winston Zeddemore.  Except white.  And female.  And cute (sorry, Z).

Very good stuff.


  • Haley is played by the very cute Olivia Cooke from Bates Motel — I did not recognize her without the tubes in her nose.
  • My occasional prosopagnosia also prevented me from recognizing Brenton Thwaites from the very good Oculus which I just saw on April 12th (yeah, I keep track).
  • Wikipedia says Sarah Clarke (Nina Myers from 24) was in this, but IMDb does not list her.  Her, I can’t believe I would have missed.  Based on the trailers, I get the sense there were a LOT of scenes cut.
  • Not to be confused with The Signal, a 2007 horror joint that I liked.  Or according to IMDb, Signal which will be released in 2015, or The Signal which will be released in 2016, or The Signal currently in development (c’mon 2017!).

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