Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Directed by: William Eubank
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne
With all the world devastation, comic book antics, Star Wars, Treks and Avatars that seems to be dominating the science fiction genre these days, it’s always refreshing when a low key, atmospheric sci-fi film, that promises big ideas, big narratives and originality comes along to remind you that sci-fi isn’t just about cities being pounded to smithereens. It’s a shame then, that while William Eubank’s debut featureaims high, with it’s intriguing set-up, mystery and luscious visuals, it never follows through, ultimately ending up a confused mess of a film, that leaves you scratching your head more in frustration than with any deep resounding thoughts.
The story follows Nic and his two friends from MIT, as they track down a signal from a mysterious hacker known as Nomad, to an isolated location in the middle of the Nevada desert. After a terrifying experience, lifted directly out of The Blair Witch Project, Nic wakes up trapped in a facility full of men and women in biohazard suits. As Nic searches for answers, he discovers a conspiracy much larger than he could ever have imagined.
The thing about any mystery, it’s that the answers have to feel satisfying, even a head trippy sci-fi as this. They don’t always have to make sense, but they have to at least satisfy. First time director Eubank does well to establish a sense of unnerving tension as our intrepid trio track down Nomad, before upping the mystery once Nic finds himself stuck in the whitewashed, antiseptic room of the mysterious underground facility. It’s an engaging setup, assisted effectively by the film’s beautiful visuals and Laurence Fishburne’s wonderfully cold and emotionless Dr. Damon.
For the most part, Eubank seems intent on keeping his audience firmly in the dark for as long as possible. Yet when the revelations do come however, they raise more questions than they answer, answers that reveal more about the script’s gaping plot holes and inconsistencies than they do the central mystery. Ultimately, the answers that are presented are never satisfying, and soon the film gives way to the mystery and descends into something akin to a pseudo-superhero tale than the head trippy sci-fi it began life as. Indeed, it seems as if it struggles to figure out its own identity towards the end, opting instead for sequences and scenes that feel derivative of better works. It feels as if the film switches gears at least three times before the end, never quite confident of its own identity.
Brenton Thwaites (who seems to be popping up in everything this year) does his best as Nic and Laurence Fisburne is wonderfully cold, but it feels that along the way, the filmmakers became more concerned with their flashy visual tricks than making an engaging story and developing characterization.
It’s a shame then, as it’s clear that lurking beneath the surface detail of The Signal, there is an intriguing movie just itching to break out. Visually stunning, never afraid to take chances and think big, it’s a film in which the risks never fully pay off. Ambitious, yes, but ultimately frustrating and derivative.