By this point I've written more about The Signal than Anne Rice has written about vampires, but since it's such a rock-solid little flick -- and also because the DVD is finally hitting stores this week -- I figure it's time for one last reminder. And here it is: Check this flick out, horror fans. I'm not saying it's some sort of instant classic or groundbreaking masterpiece, but it does represent something pretty important: That you can make a movie for VERY little money, provided you're working with ample doses of talent, creativity, and dedication. For somewhere around $60,000, a bunch of actors and filmmakers got together in Atlanta -- and made a little flick that played festivals all over the world. More important, it earned a lot of enthusiastic praise along the way.
Plus it's just plain old creepy.
Reviewed by Scott Weinberg
All you need to know about the story is this: The city of Terminus has become infected by some sort of electrical "signal." Spend too much time watching the signal and you turn into a raving, homicidal lunatic. Trapped in the middle of the mayhem are three people: A sweet girl, her loving boyfriend ... and the sweet girl's seriously unstable husband. Oops. It's a potentially conventional "love triangle" that actually does a lot of the flick's heavy lifting: Without three colorful characters, the apocalyptic mayhem would get pretty old pretty quick.
As you probably know by now, The Signal is unique in that it comes from three separate directors: David Bruckner does act (or "transmission") one, Jake Gentry steers number 2, and Dan Bush helms the third. See the film is many times as I have and you start to label the transmissions as "horror," "comedy," and "drama" -- but that's not to say that The Signal doesn't work as a whole. That the film is such a cohesive piece is a testament to the power of simple teamwork. (How many directors want to share the job with two other guys, really?) Another huge asset lies in the casting department. You might not recognize folks like Anessa Ramsey, AJ Bowen, Scott Poythress, Cheri Christian, or Justin Welborn, but I'm betting you'll see a bit more of 'em all in the future. Even during my first introduction to the movie at Sundance '07, I remember commenting on how terribly intense Bowen was, how strangely funny Poythress was, and how powerfully vulnerable Welborn was. (Poythress and Christian steal Transmission 2, though, and do it quite entertainingly.) And Ms. Ramsey does a great job with a tough part: She's a liar and an adulterer, yet we instantly care for this girl.
To address a few commonly-asked questions: YES, the film did get a theatrical release, and shame on you if you live in a "major market" and didn't do a little leg-work last February. YES, the release was held up for over a year and NO, the movie was not delayed for reasons of quality or post-production tinkering. (Boring truth be told, the release was held up for reasons of ... music licensing.) And YES, the plot sounds a little bit like Stephen King's novel Cell, but the movie was already in production the day the book hit the stores! (Plus, if you've seen The Signal and you've read Cell, then you know they're really quite different.)
I'm a big sucker for stories best described as "It's the end of the world as we know it and nothing's fine," and I say The Signal is a very strong entry in the sub-genre of Sci-Fi-Horror Apocalyptia. The fact that it came from a crew of newcomers who had more ideas then they did money ... that's just the icing on the cake. Hollywood could churn out a mega-budget remake next month and it wouldn't be as good as this colorful, intense, and crafty little indie flick. Frankly it's discoveries like The Signal make my job so awesome.
So obviously I like the movie (and I know I'm not alone on this; all the other horror sites dig it too), but how's the DVD? I'm glad I asked, because the DVD is pretty damn good. One might expect a micro-budget indie flick to arrive in bare-bones fashion, but such is certainly not the case here. The film is presented in a very clean anamorphic widescreen transfer, although one has to remember that this movie was "cheap and dirty," which I mean as a compliment. Audio is delivered in your choice of 5.1 or 2.0, with optional subtitles in Spanish only.
The extras kick off with a very fine audio commentary from Bruckner, Gentry and Bush -- which offers equal doses of Signal info and laid-back geekiness -- and they don't stop there. We also get three alternate scenes (with director's intro); a 4-minute promotional piece that has some solid interview sections; three very cool webisodes that show The Signal's impact in different parts of Terminus; a 15-minute behind-the-scenes mini-doco that covers the basics pretty well; a very disturbing short film from Gentry called The Hap Hapgood Story and the original theatrical trailer. Like I said, a well-stocked platter to complement a very nifty movie.
But since I ran out to Best Buy to purchase my copy of The Signal (hey, gotta support the cause, even if I do own a festival screener of the flick, right?), you get a Special Edition review! That's right: If you buy your DVD at the aforementioned mega-mart, it comes with a second disc containing five additional featurettes. And they are:
Exquisite Corpses: The History of The Signal Crew (3:10)
Emanating Pulses: From Idea to Screenplay (4:16)
Processing the Transmissions: Shooting The Signal (6:18)
Common Household Items: The Weapons and Visual Effects of Terminus (7:04)
Transmitting The Signal: Sundance & Beyond (6:36)
These pieces are pretty self-explanatory: The directors, the actors, producers Alex Motlagh and J.D. Taylor discussing the genesis of the project, the indie conditions, the three-headed approach, etc. So it's only about 28 minutes of extra stuff, but hey, it's free. And the fans should enjoy the background info, at least one time through.
Anyway, I see dozens of horror flicks of all shapes and sizes on the festival circuit, and The Signal was one of 2007's very best. Consider it an absolute must-rent, but you'll only want to watch it again in a few weeks...