The Signal distorts its amplified paranoid frequency creating high-pitched sci-fi perplexities. Choices of morality. The conflict between sound logical reasoning and overwhelming emotional burden. It is the fundamental laws of human nature to base decisions around both outputs, whether the resultant event is a success or failure. It defines who we are as an intelligent species with the capacity of emotional thought and subconscious. Remove that, and humanity is relinquished. Nic, Jonah and Haley, three MIT students on a road trip to California, seize the opportunity to track an infamous hacker down in the middle of Nevada (IP address bouncing through TCP based on ominous emails sent to Nic, which surprisingly is somewhat accurate...). They encounter an abandoned house and, after a bright white light shrouds their peripheral visions, Nic eventually wakes up in a clinically sterile underground research facility when he is then questioned about his encounter with “the signal”.
Eubank’s low-budget sci-fi thriller is undoubtedly ambitious in terms of scope. Much like his manipulation with the characters, the cerebral aesthetic of the story allows him to influence the audience’s minds with plenty of narrative twists. Each twist circumnavigating the metaphorical nature of Eubank’s screenplay, exploring the audacious conflict between logic and emotion. An effective divulgence that only comes into fruition due to the introductory, albeit surface-level, characterisation of the three main friends. Particularly Nic and Haley whom are in a strained relationship, with the former not wanting his disability to hold her back. A calculated decision that suppresses the emotional distress within, however the story’s twisted events allow Nic to discover the immensity of one emotion. Love. Whilst this sentiment is superficial in terms of its developed manifestation throughout the feature, with their relationship rarely progressing from a few heartfelt stares, it does produce some required characterisation to accentuate “the signal”.
Another distinctive quality Eubank possesses, is his visual style. With much attention driven towards gorgeous slow-motion frames of raging water torrenting down a jagged river and the eventual chaos as these friends attempt to escape the facility. Lanzenberg’s cinematography is impeccable, flawless even.
The same cannot be said for the bulk of the story however. Initially, the search for the hacker was shrouded in realism and delicately focused on the friendships of the protagonists. Then the piercing light blinds them. Slowly but surely, the story concedes to enthusiastic sci-fi tropes that inject overpowering noise within its frequency modulation. Distorting the primary emotional focus with distractions that liken the plot to Plato’s philosophical ‘Allegory of the Cave’ through the projection of false perceptions manufactured by another entity. The more the signal heightens its pitch, the louder its bombastic temperament becomes. Eubank’s determination to remain mysterious until the very last scene, which undoubtedly forced many eye-rolling and face-palming opportunities, ultimately created dissatisfaction upon reliance of the absurd. The character depth dissipates and the narrative gradually incoherent, alongside inconsistent pacing. Thwaites, Cooke and Knapp, whilst functional, become lost in the midst of the mind-bending disarray. Failing to create empathy. Shaye’s minuscule presence however was delightfully idiosyncratic.
For what it’s worth, Eubank’s The Signal is an admirable attempt at harmonising human emotions with logical thinking. Through the absurdities of sci-fi tropes, it hoped to convey human self-reflection. Instead, the exceedingly stylish visuals and eventual plot destination overwhelm the resonance of humanity, weakening the strength of this particular cinematic signal. Ambitious, yet flawed.