Three college students on a road trip across the Southwest experience a detour: the tracking of a computer genius who has already hacked into MIT and exposed security faults. The trio find themselves drawn to an eerily isolated area. Suddenly everything goes dark. When one of the students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites of The Giver and Maleficent), regains consciousness, he is in a waking nightmare...
Starting last year and heading into the year 2016, we will be bombarded with tons of sci-fi films. This is great news, people. We have seen a treasure trove of this great genre with big action blockbusters that cost upwards of $200 million and some more meager projects that cost less than a tenth of that budget, while still maintaining decent visual effects and sci-fi story lines. I could start listing some of these movies, but I’d be here for a few hours. Whether these current sci-fi films are good or bad, we are still receiving excellent characters and story arcs that dare us to think and dream.
That brings us to this small film called ‘The Signal‘, which had one-hundredth of a $200 million dollar budget, and proved that it could hang with the biggest and best of the science fiction genre. This is one of those rare movies that kept me guessing and left me on the edge of my seat for its complete 95-minute run-time. Director and writers William and Carlyle Eubank have concocted a great script that gives us a fresh and unique taste of the new generation of sci-fi filmmakers. I have no doubt that William Eubank will have a successful career after this release.
Nic and Jonah (Brenton Thwaites and Beau Knapp) are MIT students who are on a road trip with Nic’s girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke), as they are taking her from Cambridge to Caltech. These students are very computer savvy and are in an online fight with a hacker named Nomad, who recently hacked into MIT’s servers, caused trouble, and blamed it on our three travelers. Jonah figures out where Nomad is hiding out and convinces Nic and Haley to travel to the desert in Nevada to confront him. They arrive at a run down house in the middle of nowhere with home video cameras and flash lights to investigate the house, which is where this film switches to an all out horror film that actually scares. Before they find real clues, strange things start to happen and we see Haley pulled up into the air and the screen cuts to black.
Nic then awaits in a hospital with silent men in hazmat suits observing and watching his every move. Dr. Wallace (Laurence Fishburne) enters in his hazmat suit and begins to talk with Nic who is unaware of what happened and where he is. He can’t feel his legs and does not have full strength, but he demands answers. Dr. Wallace vaguely addresses his questions and tells him that he and his friends have encountered an EBE (Extraterrestrial Biology Entity), and that he is being held in this secret facility for his own good, as the outside is extremely dangerous. Much like us, Nic does not believe a word he says and begins to figure out an escape route and find Jonah and Haley, only to find his surroundings and doctors becoming stranger and stranger by the hour.
The Eubanks keep the suspense and questions flowing throughout, only giving us the tiniest of hints along the way as to what’s really happening on screen. The final act of the film reveals that the Eubanks know how to tell a great story with excellent visual effects on a very small budget, as this little movie goes from art-house indie flick to big Hollywood action film. It’s done flawlessly and leaves us wanting more with a few of the film’s big reveals. Veteran actress Lin Shaye provides a wonderful cameo as a religious woman who hears voices in the sky and is losing grip on reality by the minute and Brenton Thwaites is one young actor to watch out for in the coming months. ‘The Signal‘ is hands down the best Sci-Fi film I’ve seen in the past decade.
'The Signal' comes with an excellent 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The image as a whole looks beautiful, crisp, and sharp. The Eubank brothers definitely knew how to set up a beautiful shot and give an extreme amount of depth in their film. The detail is very vivid with great closeups and sharp textures being shown in every scene. You'll be able to see wrinkles, scars, dirt specks, and dried blood perfectly clear on the actor's faces. Props and sets looks realistic and organic as well.
Some of the costumes reveal fine stitching. Colors also look great here. At the start of the film, there are some warm earth tones that simply pop off screen, but when our main characters wake up in a different location, the filmmakers changed the color scheme to dull colors that work perfectly here, which makes the reds and oranges pop even more. Skin tones are always natural and the black levels are consistently deep and inky. There were no instances of any banding, aliasing or heavy video noise either, leaving this video presentation with top marks.
This release comes with an impressive lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix. This film is a great sci-fi movie and relies on the whole 'less-is-more' scenario. That being said, you shouldn't expect a big action scene every three minutes. Instead, this is a very suspenseful and dialogue driven film with great audio detail to the most minute movements. Sound effects are very robust and intentionally loud to keep up the nail biting atmosphere. Ambient noises also sound great too.
The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow and free of all pops, cracks, and hissing. There is some superb directionality with this mix as well and it fully immerses you into this strange and scary situation. The score by Nima Fakhrara is brilliant, haunting, and always adds to the suspense in every scene while not drowning out any dialogue or sound effect. While this audio mix is more front heavy than a normal sci-fi film, it's very effective. The LFE is excellent with great highs and lows, and the dynamic range is very wide, leaving this audio presentation with great marks.
Audio Commentary - The Eubank brothers and producer David Fragenio sit down and discuss the making of this great movie. The talk about how they came up with the story, their influences, how they lost track of what the film was about at a certain point, but came back, as well as some fun things that happened on set. This is fun commentary and any fan of the film should listen to this.
Behind 'The Signal' (HD, 10 Mins.) - Here is a fun look at some of the on set production of the film. You'll get to see how they did some of the effects, the acting, and some of the sets.
Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes (HD, 10 Mins.) - There are seven scenes total here, all of which are worth watching.
Brilliant! (HD, 1 Min.) - A funny blooper with Laurence Fishburne.
'The Signal' is by far one of the best Sci-Fi films in a long time. The story, the characters, and dialogue are all top notch. It's a slow burn, psychological film that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. I can't wait to see what these filmmakers do next. The video and audio presentations are both excellent, and while there are only a few extras, they're quite enjoyable. 'The Signal' is a must own.