‘The Signal’ – a Cinematic Tootsie Pop!

I finally saw The Signal (2007), directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry and was delightfully surprised by how hilarious and smart it is. I skipped it in its initial run because its ad campaign portrayed it as an over-serious, metaphoric, sci-fi thriller with young lovers at its center. Zzzz. I’m not here to do reviews, but I am going to sing The Signal’s praises in case you also passed it over.

'The Signal' (2007)
Somewhat misleading key art for ‘The Signal’ (2007)

It turns out the central lovers are adulterous, and you’re never quite sure about their “love,” so the poster art is really misleading. They are separate when “armageddon” (an audiovisual signal that makes everyone murderous) comes down, and it’s their quest for each other with her bully of a husband in pursuit that forms the basis for the plot, which is much more character-driven and zany than the ad campaign implied.

You see what I mean? No zaniness in the trailer. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to downplay what I thought was the movie’s core strength — not taking itself too seriously. Because, let’s face it, the premise is corny. However, it’s used here as an excuse to set everyone’s id loose. Whee!

That should have been the tagline: “Ids on the Rampage.”

The film has three directors, who each directed a chapter of the film, each from a different character’s perspective (wife, husband, lover). I love this approach because it allows for a nonlinear narrative structure, which is always fun, and these filmmakers run with it. Also it means there are dramatic changes in style which reflect the changes in perspective. For me this kept things fresh and lively, but apparently other critics thought this made the film uneven. Killjoys.

'The Signal' (2007)
Sahr Ngaujah as Rod and Anessa Ramsey as Mya

The first chapter, directed by Bruckner, takes the wife’s point-of-view (Anessa Ramsey as Mya) and is the most horrific. Sahr Ngaujah as Rod steals this show. It’s apocalyptically grim and truly scary, but just when you might get tired of the carnage, chapter two takes over.

'The Signal' (2007)
Christopher Thomas as Ken

In this middle section, the bully husband stumbles into a derailed New Year’s Eve Party. If that sounds a little funny, it’s not; it’s hilarious! Hostess Anna (Cheri Christian) and neighbor Clark (Scott Poythress) are already in enough trouble when Lewis (A. J. Bowen) busts in searching for his unfaithful wife. I don’t want to give anything away but — “Who wants cocktails?” — did I mention Lewis is an exterminator? And then Jerry shows up hoping to get lucky.

'The Signal' (2007)
A. J. Bowen as Lewis, Scott Poythress as Clark (Lewis and Clark, harhar) and Matthew Stanton as Jerry

The final chapter follows lovelorn Ben (Justin Welborn) who, unfortunately, finds Lewis before he finds Mya. This section eases back into seriousness. As armageddon has been underway for awhile, we get a gander at humanity in ruins. Things get psychological, philosophical, and lyrical. There are some really lovely moments (and some really gruesome ones), but I’m not sure I would have bought this part if it weren’t for the comedy treat in the middle —

Hey, it’s a cinematic Tootsie Pop!

'The Signal' (2007)
Justin Welborn as Ben

This is another film I would have missed if it hadn’t been for the EMP Museum‘s “100 Horror Movies To See Before You Die” list. If you also missed it because of the campaign or stupid reviews, time to toss this Tootsie Pop flick into your Halloween viewing sack!

Footnotes:

Bruckner has an episode in a new ensemble horror, Southbound, along with directors Roxanne Benjamin, Patrick Horvath and Radio Silence. Here’s a fun interview surrounding the film’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere. It was scheduled for a west coast premiere as part of Beyond Fest, but it got bumped for the Wes Craven tribute.

Gentry’s sic-fi Synchronicity came out earlier this year, with fairly mixed reviews. Haven’t seen it yet.

You can catch Bush’s short/music video “Ghost of Old Highways” on Vimeo.

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