By Michael Arbeiter, Hollywood Staff
If you take the unpredictability, the philosophical depth, and the groundbreaking artistry out of a Twilight Zone episode, you'll be left with something like The Signal: a dude wakes up in a weird place and everything's different and he doesn't know why story, lacking in most of the merit, but still packing a good sum of the entertainment factor. Although it's hardly the stimulating piece of thought provoking sci-fi that it might aim to be, The Signal is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the avenues of B-movie kitsch, kookiness, and half-baked imagination.
The film does the trick in establishing palpable characters. However rote they may be, MIT student Nic (Brenton Thwaites), post-millennial geek Jonah (Beau Knapp), and Nic's girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) are colored bright enough to cart us through the bizarre world soon to ensnare them with no dearth of empathy. We meet the trio at the tail end of a cross-country road trip; Haley is moving to the West Coast with plans reeking of a fresh start mentality, despite her affirmed devotion to the recently crippled Nic and their relationship. During their travels, Nic and Jonah are contacted by an anonymous hacker of renown, Nomad, and driven to find his secret hideout in the middle of nowhere. Naturally, exploration of a remote cabin leads our heroes to ultimate doom: they wake up the next morning steeped in a set of strange, often incomprehensible, and consistently titilating circumstances.
Government facilities, men in spacesuits (Laurence Fishburne leading the bunch), dense interrogations, disturbing footage, and lanced memories... all of the Rod Serling traditions, each injected with an intimate connection gratis of our mumblecorey introduction to the early 20s trio. As we follow Nic on his endeavor to figure out what the hell is going on and get himself and his friends the hell out of dodge, we're driven both by the mystery and the personal evolution of the characters at hand.
Granted, neither one is offering particularly stellar material: Nic's character arc is basic at best, ditto the big questions circling the enigmatic setting. But the saving grace of The Signal, odd as it may be, is that we're never really expecting to be impressed. From the get-go, we feel as though we're stepping into a particularly hokey second-rate feature. It's the embrace of this identity, and the appreciation for a movie of this aesthetic, that can help to carry us to the end (the big reveal!) with plenty of enjoyment.