The Signal (2007 movie) review…

The Signal (2007 movie) review after the break…

The Signal (2007 movie) review…

As I review more films, I find myself falling into a few conventions that may or may not have merit towards accurately reviewing films.

First, I find that endings are often so much weaker then beginnings. I shouldn’t be surprised by this assessment since it’s easy to start a story but much harder to write a satisfying conclusion. Give a person a set-up and they’ll think of an ending that’s different then yours.

Second, I find that premises often have far greater potential then the plots they are given. Again, give someone a wacky premise like, “Everyone in the world suddenly turns into monkeys,” and there would be thousands of different plots meant to express that premise. Some of the plots would be humorous while others would be serious.

Third, I always feel a little guilty even giving just the slightest bit of criticism. I am not stupid; Creating a film is hard. Just funding a movie is hard. Then there’s the acting, the directing, the film editing, the lighting, the sound effects… Thousands of hours go into making a piece of crap film and even though what you’re reviewing is a piece of crap film, it is far better then the film that doesn’t exist at all. To paraphrase a fictional pirate captain, “I may be the worst film you’ve ever seen, but at least you’ve SEEN me.”

“The Signal” is a 2007 film about a couple who experiences an apocalyptic phenomenon in the city of Terminus (read: What the city of Atlanta used to call itself). In an instant, all the televisions begin to transmit a signal that turns violent people more violent, timid people more timid and obnoxious people more obnoxious. In short, whatever your dominant personality traits are, they are about to be magnified to a very unhealthy degree.

The movie has had some unfair comparisons with a Stephen King book called “The Cell” which has a similar but more horror-oriented premise. Did one copy the other? Honestly, since I don’t have a stake in the matter, it doesn’t concern me. In all fairness, the concept is not original – “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” had a similar concept involving Halloween masks and a televised transmission that turned all of the childrens’ heads into insects. I have little doubt that there are other books and movies that could attest to having a similar concept as well.

The movie is divided into three parts, or “transmissions,” as they are called. Each part is directed by a different person and each part also has a different theme. The first part is strictly horror, the next is more of a dark comedy while the third might be seen as a drama with horror elements. Anyone who calls this film a straight horror movie has either set the bar for the concept of “horror” either amazingly low or simply hasn’t watched the entire movie.

Of the three parts, the first part is by far the strongest. Again, I drift towards the “beginning is better then the ending” convention but, this time, it really is true. The beginning sets the tone for this film and is the most effective. With “the signal” being an unknown quantity, the beginning plays fairly well as ordinary people become much stranger and seemingly ordinary actions (such as the playful swinging of a baseball bat or a husband having an inquisitive conversation with his wife) take on an ominous definition all of their own.

Once the audience is clued in to how “the signal” can alter a person, we begin to wonder who is affected by the signal, how severely they are affected and affected in what way. Not everyone turns violent; Some turn far too caring or vastly too cautious.

The other parts of the movie, especially the second part, suffer greatly from the first part’s set-up and effectiveness. The shift to a dark comedy where a motley and mainly uninvited crew of affected citizens attend a cocktail party simply doesn’t mesh well with the tense opening third of the film. The dark comedy may well have been an effective way of presenting the premise but it is not how the audience is introduced towards the premise. Violence, murders and characters are portrayed far too comically and wash away the effectiveness that the first part had set up for the film.

One aspect of the film that was not effective were the delusions. In the film, people have delusions which are far different then the actual reality. A woman thinks that her husband has survived his mortal injuries and begins dancing with her; A man thinks that some macabre alterations to a severed human head can bring it back to life. In both cases, we are given both realities but in each case, the presentation of both dilutes the actual story line further. Characters might be susceptible to illusions but their display only confuses in their presentation, leaving viewers wondering if they should emotionally invest in the movie or wait until they know whether or not the scene was an illusion or not.

“The Signal” would have been far more effective had it stuck simply to straight horror. Different directors for different parts might have been able to have been achieved but different themes within the same movie just did not work. By the time the third act reveals that it wants to rid itself of the dark comedy traits of the second part, the damage has been done: What should the viewer expect from any given scene? Are we to laugh or recoil in horror? How can a film be taken seriously if one-third of the film is suddenly played for laughs? Also, if the signal is only for televisions, what about the blind? Are they immune?

The Signal may not be the worst film that I’ve ever seen; Yet I find anything compelling for me to recommend it’s second or third parts to anyone who wants to see an adequate beginning squandered by a completely inadequate middle and conclusion.

Maybe, sometimes, the conventions we fall into are genuine because – Let’s face it, sometimes, they’re right.

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