The day before New Year’s Eve, the residents of Terminus concern themselves will the day-to-day. Some of them are preparing to throw end of the year parties. Others, find themselves embroiled in extramarital affairs. As all telecommunication devices begin to transmit the same, enigmatic signal – watch here, if you dare – its effects seem to vary, sometimes wildly. Some begin to violently attack one another, without discrimination. Others, move around in a daze. As the carnage begins to press in on them, one thing is certain – there’s no future for those who choose to remain in Terminus.
The Signal is the 2007 independent sci-fi horror film directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry starring Anessa Ramsey as Mya, A. J. Bowen as her already sort of psychotic husband, Lewis, Justin Welborn as Mya’s lover, Ben, Scott Poythress as Clark, and Cheri Christian as Anna.
When I hear people talk about The Signal the first thing that comes up is how unoriginal they feel the idea is. This always brings up my dander. How many vampire films are there? How many zombie movies? At the time of its release in 2008, The Signal had but a few contemporaries – one, a film that would be remade in the years that followed it (The Crazies) and, another in the form of a Stephen King novel, Cell. It’s subject matter and themes – where a broadcast or transmission of unknown origin somehow corrupts the human mind – is underexplored in film. And this makes me wonder if it’s the subject matter of The Signal that keeps these naysayers away. As our world becomes inundated with technology meant to make our existence more comfortable and connected what’s the cost?
I’m telling you – this is ripe territory for an industry that could be interpreted as getting lazy and redundant. But, I digress…
I love the film’s gritty look and instead of being hindered by a small production budget (around $50K), the filmmakers make it work. More than this, the fact that The Signal is directed by three different people (Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry) lends a very specific and unique feel. In the case of The Signal each “transmission” or act has a different focus or theme with all of the acts furthering the primary plot. The process employed in the making of The Signal is creatively exciting – a story is passed from one filmmaker to the next who, in turn, takes it in different/new/other directions before passing it off to the next person. If you think about it, the process is simultaneously enthralling and terrifying. The downside? I suppose, in a way, the result can come off as schizophrenic.
The first segment, which is not technically a transmission but more of a prologue, focuses on Mya and Ben and on the beginning of the “outbreak”. It becomes clear, quickly, that the two have begun an affair. Ben does his best to convince Mya to stay, to leave her husband, and to meet him tomorrow, on New Year’s Eve, at Terminal 13 where they will leave Terminus behind and begin anew, together. I’ll happily put on record that the scene in which Mya is trying to get into her car while some stranger quickly strides toward her is tense genius. It set a high watermark for the film.
The second segment, known as “Transmission I” is violent and dark – emulating the splatter horror genre. In my opinion, it’s really well done – the use of light throughout is highly atmospheric. The third segment, known as “Transmission II” is equally as violent but you’ll find elements of black comedy employed throughout. In the final segment, “Transmission III”, as Ben risks his life to get to Mya, the structure/theme focuses on post-apocalyptic love.
While each segment has its own merits (the prologue and first segment are my favorites), their distinct character and pacing is likely to polarize any audience. And that’s okay. As a fan of
episodic – or “chapter” – films like Tales from the Crypt, I gave myself to the structure quickly with a willingness to come along for the ride. The problem is that most people will see the first segment, really dig the strong beginning, and then be like, “WTF?!” And I can’t say I blame them.
It’s cool to be independent, to try things and experiment. Here at MITNG we applaud you for it. But, there’s no escaping the reality of the marketplace. If you want to reach more than a fringe demographic, you’re bound to the rules of coherency and cohesion – even if your subject matter plays with themes of chaos and madness.
Definitely worth a rental, The Signal is a great example of what you can do with a little and what might have been done with more.
Official Site: http://doyouhavethecrazy.com/
Interviews / Press Junket: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGnxwWKi34I&list=PLDB3D6345DBB9FD97
Yes, This Happened: Stabbing in Fullerton at a screening of The Signal