ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

2014 promises some major sci-fi blockbusters, with the likes of Transformers 4, Transcendence and Interstellar blasting onto the big screen. However, we're also going to be seeing some smaller, and slightly more original, sci-fi treats, such as Sundance favorite, The Signal.

The Signal has just received a US theatrical release date, and to get you in the mood here is a review round-up from the Sundance Festival.

Broadly speaking, The Signal received favorable reviews from both critics and audiences. It currently stands at 7.8 on IMDB - although their rating system is not entirely known for its accuracy - but it has yet to appear on the more reliable Rotten Tomatoes or MetaCritic. However, several news outlets who covered Sundance have already released reviews of the indie sci-fi flick.

The Signal follows three hacker friends who attempt to locate a mysterious and unknown computer genius who has hacked MIT and messed around with their servers. However, upon stumbling upon an abandoned shack in the desert, they are rendered unconscious, only to be woken up in a strange and unknown bunker-like facility. To find out more about what The Signal is about, head over to here, or stick around for the reviews.

The Signal seems to have been welcomed with open arms by the less traditional and well-known movie news sites, while the old guard such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter were a little bit more restrained in their praise.

Almost all the reviewers noted The Signal unusual and surprising narrative. Variety stated:

The less audiences know going in, the more intrigued they’ll be by the story’s not entirely predictable twists and turns.

While GeekTyrant added:

The film had plenty of fun twists and turns to keep the audience guessing about what was really going on. I had my theories while watching the movie, some of which were right. But, I didn't realize the level to where they would take it. I was impressed by what this movie delivered. It had drama, action, comedy, and really cool sci-fi elements.

TheFilmStage also drew comparisons to some of science fiction's most cerebral titles, explaining:

Add one dash of The Matrix, one part Chronicle and a little Dark City thrown in for good measure and you should have a sense of what kind of flavors The Signal is attempting to emulate. The story is also filled with some great misdirection resulting in some unexpected twists and turns that are genuinely surprising.

FirstShowing made similar comparisons to classic sci-fi:

It might be too much to say that the film has a Cube-like idea behind it, but it's also inspired by the kinds of mysteries found in "Twilight Zone" and hinges on the thrilling storytelling that worked so well with "Lost". If you're a big fan of any of those references, then this film will certainly keep you intrigued and entertained.

Although The Hollywood Reporter ultimately concluded:

A glossier take on the recent indie trend of brainy, cards-close-to-chest sci-fi pictures that veers toward the mainstream near the end, William Eubank's The Signal is ultimately a lot less unusual than it appears...

The visuals styles of the film were also almost unanimously praised, despite its low budget. BloodyDisgusting praised its sparing but effective use of CGI:

Eubank gets some serious mileage out of what has to be a minimal special effects budget. Doled out sparingly, the CGI manages to make an impact when the movie needs it most.

While TheFilmStage similarly pointed out its effective use of cinematography:

Despite sometimes feeling like an overtly slick Nike commercial, The Signal is clever in its execution of recycled concepts. The cinematography, editing, sound design are all top-notch and elevate the simplicity of its production value to an almost Hollywood level of sheen.

Variety also echoed these sentiments:

Pic’s exquisite visual design is the real star, from the blindingly white, menacing interiors of Damon’s facility to the warm and evocative flashbacks from Nic and Haley’s early days together. David Lanzenberg’s camera is always on the move, but the images are carefully composed with a level of elegance rarely seen in teen-oriented genre pics; Eubank started as a d.p. himself, and “The Signal” looks a good deal more expensive than its modest budget would suggest.

However, despite these words of encouragement, the more serious outlets did caveat their reviews with a few negative points. Indeed, it seems that although some twists and turns surprised reviewers, it ultimately ends in a rather generic and formulaic way. The Hollywood Reporter concluded:

Throughout the third act, though, the cat-and-mouse game grows more conventional. One starts to suspect the film is a little less trippy than it seemed; that whatever big revelation awaits us may be inadequate to explain the action leading to it. That's more or less the case, though some sci-fi buffs will be satisfied with this tease that allows them to make up their own explanations.

FilmStage also jumped onto this point, finishing their review by stating:

Yet the film has trouble escaping typical dramatic clichés while not offering any deeper significance to the events. When the final scene unfolds, it should have created a revelatory repercussion but instead it feels familiar. It’s because we’ve seen many of these ideas play out already and it dampens their effect. The Signal is a genuinely entertaining film made with some real heart and passion, but its impact is dulled by overly relying on familiar gimmicks.

Ultimately, however, it seems The Signal will be a big hit for conventional audiences. The Hollywood Reporter accepts that although arthouse reception might be lukewarm, The Signal should do well with genre audiences. The fact the less 'professional' reviewers such as FirstShowing, GeekTyrant and BloodyDisgusting were almost unanimous in their praise seems to support this suggestion.

Currently, The Signal is preparing its marketing push ahead of its theatrical release. With this in mind, I'm sure we can expect trailers, pictures, clips and more in the near future. Make sure to keep an eye out for incoming news.

The Signal, directed by William Eubank, stars Laurence Fishburne, Brenton Twaites, Olivia Cooke and Beau Knapp. It's expected in theaters from June 13 2014.

What do you think? Have these reviews persuaded you check out The Signal when it releases? Let us know below.


The Signal sounds...


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