We find out from David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush’s The Signal that television programs make us suggestible, that they sometimes put us into a rage. Hey, tell us something that we don’t know! If you’ve ever had the urge to kill by throwing the idiot box out the window, where the full 50 pounds might bean someone on the street, you’ll know what the three writer-directors are talking about. Anyway, The Signal is about a signal emitted by TV screens in at least one city in the U.S., screens that turn themselves on and have the potential to turn anyone watching into a homicidal maniac. If this sounds derivative, you’ve seen Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, and if the opening scene of a couple of women handcuffed and pursued by an axe murderer looks to you like the trailer to Hostel 3, you’re at least a bit of a horror fan.
The Signal is part zombie film, part slasher movie, part generic horror, somewhat serious, somewhat a spoof, but ultimately a crashing bore in all its dismally grainy (what passes for) photography. The writing and direction challenge the notion that three heads are better than one. The first scene in a three-act story finds Ben (Justin Welborn) enjoying an affair with Mya (Anessa Ramsey), urging Mya to leave her husband, Lewis (A.J. Bowen), to link up with him. Mya begins to see things Ben’s way when Lewis, having watched TV (perhaps a commercial for ActivOn or a presidential debate, we can’t tell because of interference), turns homicidal, is ultimately stopped and is bound. His best friend Rod (Sahr Ngaujah) and Mya run from the building, then Lewis escapes and runs into Anna (Cheri Christian), who has murdered her husband, and the killings proceed, not without the occasional laughs from a series of disjointed identities stemming from Lewis’s insanity.
Much of the second half of the film is taken up by Lewis’ literal fatal attraction for his wife, who has wisely disappeared from view. The crazed man asks strangers wherever he finds them for the location of the spouse, perfectly willing to kill, whether by decapitation or spraying their throats with rat poison should they fail to give the right answer. As the bloodbath proceeds, becoming less scary with each increment, the viewer can’t help feeling satiated with nearly an hour to go, hoping that somewhere, somehow, a bomb might go off, decimating the entire square mile of nut jobs and their flat-panel TVs.
Portrait of a struggling, stubborn folksinger in 1961 New York is a Coen Brothers triumph, and one of the year’s best films. More »
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