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Do You Have the Crazy?
by Mel Valentin on Feb 22, 2008
Written, edited, shot, and directed by Atlanta-based filmmakers David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry, The Signal premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where it garnered critical buzz and appreciative audiences for its blend of post-millennial angst, social commentary, and blood-stained, post-apocalyptic survival horror. At the time, Magnolia Pictures picked up stateside distribution rights for The Signal. Unfortunately, horror fans have been forced to wait more than a year. Luckily for those same horror fans, The Signal is more than worth the one-year wait.
Divided into three parts, part one opens with Mya (Anessa Ramsey) and Ben (Justin Welborn), emerging from post-coital bliss as a psychedelic-infused signal plays on Ben’s television. While Mya is anxious to get back home, Ben tries to talk Mya into leaving her husband, Lewis (AJ Bowen). Undecided, Mya accepts Ben’s parting gift, a mix CD of his favorite songs, including a rendition of Lou Reed’s "Perfect Day". All is not well, however, when Mya leaves Ben’s apartment, heads for her car, and discovers an injured man desperate for help as another, dangerous-looking man approaches her. Safely in her apartment, Mya finds Lewis (AJ Bowen) hanging out with two of their friends, Rod (Sahr Nguajah) and Jerry (Matthew Stanton). Minutes after watching the signal, their neighbors are ruthlessly attacking each other.
Part two follows Mya as she tries to escape from the apartment building, but then switches up to follow a completely unrelated character, Anna (Cheri Christian), as she prepares for a New Year’s Eve party. Sitting not far away from her is her husband, Ken (Christopher Thomas). Anna’s landlord, Clark (Scott Poythress) then stops by for a chat. Soon thereafter, Lewis shows up carrying a heavy pesticide container with him. Anna, Lewis, and Clark initially get along, but a neighbor, Laura (Lindsey Garrett), and a guest, Jim Parsons (Chadrian Mcknight), show up and stir things up. Part three follows Ben and Lewis as they frantically search for Mya.
Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry leave the source of the lethal transmission purposely vague. The filmmakers aren’t copping out. Leaving the source of the signal unclear serves a larger purpose, whether the signal triggers homicidal impulses after the first transmission (if at all) or whether, once the usual constraints of polite society have broken down, homicide seems “natural” even when it’s unnecessary. Two characters, one who initially acts justifiably in self-defense but becomes consumed by his violent impulses and Lewis, who starts off with serious anger and jealousy issues and gets increasingly violent as he pursues Mya eliminating real and perceived obstacles along the way, seem to fall in the far more disturbing latter category.
The Signal delivers exactly what it should: pure, visceral, gory shocks mixed with the blackest of humor. Characters get bloodied and bruised, sometimes to the point where they shouldn’t be standing or moving around, but we’ll give Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry the benefit of the doubt. The Signal looks like a much more expensive film than its modest budget suggests. With the exception of one digitally enhanced shot, the filmmakers keep The Signal focused on the rapidly shrinking cast of characters trying to survive a minor apocalypse, a smart move when you don’t have the resources for panoramic shots of a city or random amounts of mayhem. For example, the filmmakers stage the first outbreak of violence in an isolated apartment building that allows for the maximum amount of claustrophobia, paranoia, and carnage.
Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry apparently wanted to make a larger point about the nature of free will. Characters who give in to their violent impulses, even in self-defense, ultimately end up insane or dead. Those that manage to resist those violent impulses, however, stand a chance of surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. Sounds pretty heavy for a genre film, doesn’t it? Well, The Signal isn’t a standard issue horror flick. Sure, it has all the elements we’ve come to expect from post-apocalyptic/survival horror flicks, but with near seamless direction, an intelligent, thoughtful screenplay, and surprisingly polished performances, The Signal is a near-flawless film that, to borrow a cliché, transcends genres.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Feb 22, 2008