Review: THE SIGNAL (2014) Laurence Fishburne and Brenton Thwaites in sci-fi film with big aspirations

June 12, 2014

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THE SIGNAL (2014) Laurence Fishburne, Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Lin Shaye. Directed by William Eubank

This year we've seen some really good science fiction films at the box office, from Scarlett Johansson playing an alien in Under The Skin to Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt battling aliens in Edge Of Tomorrow. This week brings us the latest entry in the genre, a small sci-fi indie film with big aspirations.

William Eubank's new feature is an ambitious and stylish sci-fi adventure with rising star Brenton Thwaites (Oculus, Maleficent), Olivia Cooke (The Quiet Ones, Bates Motel), and consummate actor Laurence Fishburne. There's also a couple of great scenes with character actor Lin Shaye who recently played psychic Elise Rainier in the Insidious films.

Nic and Jonah (Brenton Thwaites, Beau Knapp) are MIT students driving cross country to drop off Nic's girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) who is transferring to Cal Tech for a year. Nic is in the early stages of MS and walks with the help of crutches. He feels like he will soon become a burden for Haley and so he looks at her move as a good thing, Haley of course disagrees. While on this trip Nic and Jonah continue to be taunted by a mysterious hacker named Nomad who broke into the MIT mainframe and nearly got the guys expelled. When they trace Nomad's signal to a location in Nevada, the trio decide take a detour to confront and get revenge on the hacker. Soon they're driving down a dirt road in the middle of the night that leads them to this run down shack. Nic and Jonah go in with flashlights to investigate, a scene reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, while Haley waits in the car. Soon her screams cause the boys to rush back outside just in time to see her body being thrust above them in the air, everything goes black and Nic wakes up in a wheelchair surrounded by men in Hazmat suits. A few moments later he's in an interrogation room being questioned by Dr. Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne) who is also wearing a Hazmat suit.

The Signal is a great looking film, from the all white and cold interiors of the medical facility, to the warm shots of the wilderness and countryside beautifully framed by cinematographer David Lanzenberg. The ambient score by composer Nima Fakhrara is a the perfect accompaniment to the film's aesthetic style. Newcomer Brenton Thwaites carries the majority of the film with a solid performance and Laurence Fishburne's tranquil demeanor recalls his Morpheus character from The Matrix. This is the second film from director William Eubank, a former cinematographer, and it impressed me from various angles. Science fiction fans should be pleased with the effort and the ending is one that you would expect in a much bigger film, Eubank's goes for the gusto and it almost elevates the film to the cult status category.

(3 1/2 stars)

*The Signal opens Friday June 13 in Houston at the Edwards Grand Palace, AMC Gulf Pointe, AMC Studio 30, and Cinemark at The Woodlands.