William Eubank’s debut feature film Love (2011) earned him a “Best Director” award at the Athens International Film Festival. A movie about connection in a world where each and every one of us is trying to prove to ourselves that we exist is sure to make an impact. Eubank’s second feature The Signal has a similar premise. Yet, this time Eubank pushes his science-fiction theme further. The sci-fi thriller, co-written by sibling Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio, explores the choices we make as human beings and what it is that drives us between thinking logistically and thinking emotionally.
Eubank’s film focuses on three MIT students, the victim of muscular dystrophy Nic (Brenton Thwaites), his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) and best friend Jonah (Beau Knapp), as they attempt a road trip. They are lured to an off-road location by the taunting hacker NOMAD in hope of catching him in the act. In a nod to the found-footage horror film the detour becomes a close encounter. Nic awakens in a place reminiscent of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone with Laurence Fishburne as the hazmat-wearing researcher Damon. What is real and what is imaginary? What is alien and what is human?
This conflation between alien reason and human emotion is attempted through the transitioning of flashbacks of Thwaites that occur when Nic is faced with an extreme situation present time. However, Eubank never quite succeeds in making these work. The flashbacks are beautifully shot with a slight Lynchian impression but Nic staring at a river doesn’t inform the story in any way. Very much like the role of Olivia Cooke who is disorientated and mute for the majority of the film. Eubank focuses on Thwaites’s character with an intensity that means he forgets to flesh out the hollow Haley. She exists purely as a narrative function for the personal development of Nic, that leads up to the Dark City (1998) inspired ending.
The Signal has its flaws and yet it does work. Although Eubank’s finale asks more questions than it answers, it forces us to use our imagination to interpret past, present and future events. Refreshingly, we are left thinking and fundamentally this is what every science-fiction film should aim to do.
Eubank‘s second attempt at the science-fiction genre has its problems. Cooke and Knapp are underdeveloped and attempts at giving technical devices such as slow-motion and flashbacks meaning fall flat. But, The Signal left us surprised, wondering and wanting more.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The Signal is released in the UK 27 March 2015.