An impressive film, but hardly the “groundbreaking indie masterpiece” it’s been made out to be. THE SIGNAL (2007) is a semi-experimental anthology film that’s scary, funny and suspenseful—but still not all it could be.
The gimmick here was for three directors to each helm a segment of a continuous story. The directors were David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush, and the film an extremely low budget affair filmed in Atlanta, GA over a 13-day schedule.
The concept of normal folks turned into homicidal maniacs by some outside agent—in this case an errant TV signal—isn’t exactly new (see the films THE CRAZIES, IMPULSE and 28 DAYS LATER, and the novels THE FOG, AMONG MADMEN and HATER). THE SIGNAL’S three part treatment, however, is unique and arresting.
Part 1: The setting is a big city called Terminus. Maya is a young, unhappily married woman having an affair with the nervy Ben. As she’s leaving Ben’s apartment on New Year’s Eve the TV set suddenly switches on, emitting a weird, psychedelic set of images.
In the parking structure Maya is attacked by a crazy man. She escapes to her own apartment building, where her husband Lewis is hanging with some friends. But then Lewis goes crazy and Maya flees. It seems the creepy TV transmission is causing people to go mad, and Maya ends up fighting off several more crazies before wandering off by herself.
Part 2: Elsewhere in Terminus, Anna, a sweet, even tempered housewife, is preparing for a New Year’s Eve party. But her husband attacks her, leaving Anna with no choice but to stab him to death with a balloon inflator.
Maya’s husband Lewis turns up in search of his wife. Lewis is totally crazed, and believes Anna is Maya. He kills Anna by spraying her face with insecticide, and is then knocked out by Maya’s lover Ben, who’s also in search of Maya.
Part 3: Ben is frantic to find Maya, and learns of her whereabouts from the only person who knows them: Lewis’ decapitated pal Rod, who after having his severed head hooked up to electrodes reveals that Maya is at the Terminus train station.
Ben hightails it to the station and finds Maya. But he’s followed by Lewis, who’s looking for a violent showdown. Ben understands that giving into rage will only help further spread the madness that has already destroyed Terminus—but how else can he be expected to take on Lewis and save the day?
Although THE SIGNAL is divided into three parts, each helmed by a different guy, it feels cohesive. The directors all photographed each others’ sequences, giving the film a unified look. That look, by the way, is one of the best things about the project. It was shot in HD video transferred to 35mm film, imparting a grainy sheen that works quite well in conjunction with the harsh subject matter and earthy handheld camerawork.
On the downside, the filmmakers’ grandiose ambitions far outweigh their scant budget. The reported 13-day shooting schedule is par the course for most normal indies, but this one is anything but normal. It features a multitude of locations, many elaborate special effects and a cast that numbers in the dozens.
Quite a few important nuances have been lost and/or glossed over. This is particularly true in the second part, which with its comedic undertones is heavily dependent on precise timing that doesn’t come off. The opening conversation between Maya and Ben is also a bust; it suffers from being too long (a full six minutes!) and the fact that it lacks the necessary coverage (the two camera set-up grows boring extremely quickly).
As a violent, energetic, attention-grabbing spectacle THE SIGNAL works, certainly, but with a decent budget it could have been far more.
Directors/Screenwriters/Cinematographers/Editors: David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, Dan Bush
Producers: Alexander A. Montlagh, Jacob Gentry
Cast: A.J. Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn, Scott Poythress, Sahr Nguajah, Cheri Christian, Chad McKnight, Suehyla El-Attar, Christopher Thomas, Lindsey Garrett, Chad McKnight