Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Signal

This review is Spoiler-free.

Two MIT college students are being harassed by a stranger who impressively hacked into the MIT servers and wreaked havoc. The "cool nerd" boys are determined to get even, so when they're helping one's girlfriend move across the country and discover that the hacker's signal is only a little out of their way on the trip, they decide to pay him a visit. From there, things start getting weird.

And the weirdness never stops growing from there on out.

It will be hard to properly represent this film without giving away spoilers, but I'll try. The thing is, the less you know going in, the more surprised you'll be, and the more surprised you are, the more successful the film is. Because, as far as I can tell, this movie's sole purpose is to surprise you -- but it fringes too closely to predictability to be consistently effective at it. So, it's a science fiction, it's suspenseful and occasionally scary, it has a mystery to it, and its filming style is slow-moving and cerebral. Also, at some point, Lawrence Fishburne shows up.

In the leading role Nic, Brenton Thwaites gives a performance that is fitting to the film's style, and is probably the best I've seen him give. Beau Knapp as Jonah occasionally outplays him though. Fishburne is a great constant. Olivia Cooke as Haley, Nic's girlfriend was unimpressive and fortunately wasn't given much to do.

I  just realized Knapp was the gas station clerk in Super 8. Yeah. He's cool.

The highlights of the movie were its surprise reveals. The slow and cerebral pacing kept a suspenseful undertone going throughout, and when it built up into an exciting moment, it did it quickly with the sudden change of pace enhancing the thrill or the shock of the moment. It was quite effective. But great technique aside, the fact that the so-effectively revealed surprises were actually legitimately cool -- or scary or creepy or mind-blowing or whatever the individual goal was -- is really the important thing here. They made the movie fun to watch in the same way that The Twilight Zone is fun to watch.

In the more boring places, the style and the camerawork was just confusing. It seemed like they were trying to say something deep or profound in the subtext, but it all wound up being a waste of time when the film ended with many question still lingering around, unexplained and unresolved. At the end, I could explain what happens plot-wise, but I'm still at a loss as to the why, the reasons for many of the side plots, or what it all was supposed to mean. I will probably never know.

"Why do I see me when I look in the mirror?? This is so trippy."

Though it attempted many things, the film succeeded in one thing only. Fortunately that one thing was the most important one. It left a big impression with its science-fiction-y elements, and The Twilight Zone-like plot. The ultimate straightforwardness of it impressed me in spite of the predictability, and a potentially pretentious indie tone was tempered some classic sci-fi coolness. If, like me, a little science fiction is all you need to enjoy a film, then by all means... take the bait.

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