The Signal (2007)
Pity the writers/directors of The Signal: they jump through all the hoops to get their independent horror film finance and made, and when they’re finally ready to release it, here comes the biggest horror writer on the planet, with a book that’s unfortunately similar to their movie. Of course, there’s not a whole lot of similarities between The Signal and Cell, outside of the concept, which itself wasn’t revolutionary. Besides, these things happen sometimes. 1981 saw the release of 3 separate werewolf movies, and more recently, The Descent‘s US theatrical release was delayed several months due to the impending release of the vastly inferior The Cave. Distribution for independent horror is already pretty tough, but when Stephen King had the same idea at pretty much the same time?
And it’s a shame, too, since The Signal is pretty good. In it, electronic devices being broadcasting a signal that makes people violently jealous and paranoid. Amidst all the chaos, Mya and her boyfriend try to find each other and escape a city gone mad, while her husband looks for her. After a short opening to frame the movie, it’s split into three sections (which it calls ‘transmissions’), each one by a different director. Somewhat remarkably, the film keeps maintains the same look and style throughout, despite the varying creative influences.
The first transmission deposits us into the situation right as it’s about to go all to hell. Returning home the night before New Years’ Eve, Mya finds that most of the people in her building are going completely insane, attacking each other with whatever they have at hand. Worse yet, much like the infected in The Crazies, they’re smart enough to craft weapons, to ambush you, and you can’t necessarily tell who’s gone crazy right away. After escaping her apartment building, Mya crashes her car and continues on foot in the second transmission, while her husband Lewis tries to follow her trail, which leads us to the most awkward New Year’s Eve party ever.
The second transmission, for my money, is a masterpiece of black comedy, as people who may or may not be going crazy keep showing up. This is by far my favorite part of the movie; it’s totally demented and macabre. People sit calmly sipping drinks, waiting for the party to start, seemingly oblivious to the fact that others in the room are liberally splashed with blood. The second transmission is also the most violent of the three. There is some pretty nasty stuff here: one woman continually gets a faceful of pesticides, another person gets their head smashed in, a third gets his arm screwed into the wall. Like I said, nasty stuff. Your appreciation of the movie will almost certainly depend on how much you like this segment. The third transmission, by comparison, can’t help but feel like a little bit of a letdown. It lets go of the gallows humor to resolve the matter of Mya’s husband and boyfriend both racing to find her. It isn’t bad at all, but after such a delirious middle, just about anything would be a step back down.
Despite the somewhat lackluster third act, The Signal is a fantastic film. The filmmakers do a very nice job of grounding the movie in the reality of an unhappy marriage before society goes all to hell. While most movies would try to make Mya the bad guy for her infidelity, this one doesn’t. She’s reluctant to leave her husband, even though she’s not happy staying with him. She really doesn’t make up her mind to run from him until he gets even more possessive than usual and starts beating people to death. It was quickly smuggled into (and back out of) theaters with little fanfare, but it deserves to find a bigger audience.