It's New Year's Eve in the city of Terminus and Mya Denton (Anessa Ramsey) is considering the offer of her new lover Ben (Justin Welborn) to leave her husband and meet him at the train station that night. But when she returns home she finds the denizens of her apartment building roaming the halls, acting aggressively and inside her own apartment, things are also tense as jealous husband Lewis (AJ Bowen, "Creepshow III") grills her while buddy Jerry (Matt Stanton, "The Hawk Is Dying") swings a baseball bat. Mya's retained her sanity listening to the mix CD made by Ben, but anyone tuning into television, radio or a phone line has had his brain scrambled by "The Signal."
What began as an idea by Writer/director David Bruckner turned into the filmic equivalent of a game of continuous story told from three perspectives when writer/director pals Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry joined up and it is the originator, Bruckner, who has the strongest feel for the genre. "The Signal" involves us at the beginning by making us empathize with Mya as she descends into an increasingly tense and nightmarish world turned upside down. Dan Bush goes the blackly comic route following an apartment landlord who crosses paths with Mya while still delivering a few jolts. But using hero Ben's eyes, Jacob Gentry wraps with a mushy ending that mistakes confusion for ambiguity.
We first see the signal when the television set in Ben's bedroom turns itself on and realize its reach when neither Ben nor Mya's cell phones work. Although Mya does not yet realize it, she sees its effect on the way to her car - a bleeding stranger sitting on a curbstone asks for help with an eerie calm as another man begins lurching his way over from behind a parking garage pillar. Home is a nerve rattling beehive of activity, as couples fight in hallways and people invade Mya's personal space. When hubby Lewis kills Jerry for having swung his bat to close to Mya's head, she bolts across the hall, in time to see a man snip a woman's neck with hedge clippers, then kill neighbor Janice. This is truly unnerving stuff. Deciding to make her way towards the station, Mya reenters her own abode to find Lewis restrained with duct tape, then leaves with her mix CD blacking out the outside world (a rather silly choice, derailing one's sense of hearing in a time of chaotic danger). She's grabbed into a closet by Rod (Sahr Ngaujah, "Stomp the Yard"), Lewis's second friend who witnessed Jerry's murder, who then, as he tells Mya, spent the rest of the night trying to keep people from killing each other. Rod doesn't seem quite so stable now himself.
After a brief crossover with Mya, the second act focuses on a geeky couple preparing for a New Year's party. Anna (Cheri Christian) wonders how the mayhem outside will impact their plans before she's forced to kill hubby Ken (Christopher Thomas) with a balloon inflater to the neck. Their landlord Clark (Scott Poythress) arrives to check up on them and eventually a freed Lewis, now in his workaday identity as a pest control tech, joins the party. This episode introduces the concept of those the signal has left in between sanity and murderous rage, having left some, like Anna and Clark with unreliable perceptive ability. Guest Jim Parsons (Chad McKnight, "ER's" Officer Wilson) arrives and prattles on about scoring that evening, seeming not to notice his blood spattered hostess and environs. Eventually Ben shows up on his quest to save Mya. In the middle of all the gruesome giddiness (there's a great homage to 'Reanimator') there is one particularly gut-wrenching killing. 'Funny' horror is hard to do but Bush seems to have the knack.
Gentry's entry, though, in which a semi-sane Clark joins Ben to head towards the station, is drawn out and unsatisfying. There's a false Mya sighting. The station location, which should have provided rich back story as to what happened there, isn't well utilized. We're given weird bits of information, like Ben's admission that after Mya left the night before, he watched the signal all night, with no explanation as to why he at least seems normal. The one good idea has one character obliterating the personality of another by claiming it, but to what end.
Up until that last act, "The Signal" has the look of a 70's exploitation drive-in flick, inspiration for the credit roll-in sequence which has only the most peripheral connection to the following action. That mix CD includes Joy Division's 'Transmission,' a savvy choice whose title is also used to introduce each act. The unknown cast does solid work, with Ramsey and Welborn the natural standouts. While the low budget works mostly in the film's favor, there are some glaring continuity problems with blood and gore applications.
"The Signal" brings new blood to the horror genre, but in the end, one vision may have served the material better than three.
Robin did not see this film.
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