Written by Carlyle Eubank, William Eubank, and David Frigerio
Directed by William Eubank
Whether or not we are alone in the universe is an age old question that has racked the brains of mankind for millennia. Extraterrestrial life has been explored and researched countless times over. We have not received a definite answer to the question of whether aliens exist or not but it seems that motion pictures and other forms of art have attempted to answer that question for us. Science fiction allows us to create creatures and worlds that reach out into deep space. The Signal attempts to continue this eternal quest for knowledge and present alien life in a believable, sometimes scary fashion. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do a very good job at answering the questions it asks.
The Signal is a bizarre, twisted, uninteresting tale about three college students Nick (Brenton Thwaites), Jonah (Beau Knapp), and Hailey (Olivia Cooke), Nick’s girlfriend. They are quite adept at computer hacking and they randomly come across an unusual beacon in the middle of the desert. They then decide to track the signal which leads them to a desolate part of the American southwest. After a strange light storm stuns the three adventurers, they wake up in a government facility run by a very mysterious Laurence Fishburne. The bulk of the film follows Nick as he struggles to make sense of his surroundings and what has happened to him and his friends. The deeper his search for answers goes, the more trouble he encounters.
The Signal is not that bad, it’s the dialogue and acting that suffer. Laurence Fishburne is the only decent actor in the film. He basically serves as a babysitter for the younger good-looking leads. Seriously, these “actors” look like Gap models. Thwaites (The Giver, Maleficent), Cooke (The Quiet Ones, Bates Motel), and Knapp (Super 8, No One Lives) are pleasant to look at, sure, but they sadly cannot perform. Running around, looking scared and confused seems to be the extent of their thespian abilities.
Director William Eubank (Love, House of the Rising Sun) has actually helmed this picture quite efficiently. There really isn’t anything wrong with the film except the young actors. I suppose they can be excused because they don’t have a lot of experience and are not as seasoned as the film’s more notable star Fishburne but still, they’re just not very good.
The Signal is a flawed film with loads of potential. The mystery surrounding the aliens and the beacon could have provided for a more interesting film had the young leads running around didn’t occupy most of the 95-minute runtime. Science fiction is a tricky genre to tackle these days without giant robots, superheroes, or a constant stream of explosions filling the screen. The Signal has a unique psychological feel to it and could have worked better with different actors. Fishburne deserves praise for channeling Morpheus a bit with his ominous monotone voice but his appearance here does not make up for this overall unfortunate sci-fi misfire.
— Randall Unger