Out of Atlanta comes an independent 'Rage'-styled zombie film by way of the anthology film. The Signal unfolds in three 'transmissions' from three different writer/directors telling a continuous story with the same characters. An unexplained signal takes over the television, land and cellular phone systems which incites either extreme confusion or murderous rage (or both) into most of the population. While society tears itself apart the film initially follows Mya, a woman having an affair on her overbearing husband Lewis, who becomes the focus of the second part, with sensitive romantic Ben, the subject of the final transmission. There is nothing quite like the end of the world to bring a few people together and them tear them apart.
The film gives nods to classic zombie fare such as Night of the Living Dead (Lewis' friend Rod is somewhat of a stand in for Night of the Living Deads resourceful Ben in a mini-vignette in the film which is sure to spawn the insider catchphrase "Do you have the Crazy?") as well as more modern ones including 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, all the while borrowing a page out of the J-horror handbook (technology as the transmitter of evil) without ever coming off like a remake. The Signals greatest strength is that it remains resolutely experimental and thoroughly unpredictable. This is helped in large order by the two abrupt shifts in tone as a new writer director picks up the story in thirty minutes increments. The first part is shot aggressively hand-held and serves up intensity and immediacy with only a subtle nudge of humour. The second part is farcical (and may be the breaking point for those really caught up in the first chapter) and soaked in splatter comedy set pieces that show a real gift for comedic timing. The third part gets all psychological, conspiratorial, and (no joke) features a tinfoil hat. While the finale is probably the weakest of the three chapters (a curious phenomenon in trilogies), it nonetheless allows actor Justin Wellborn to strut his acting stuff oscillating between sensitive, incredulousness and controlled rage seamlessly.
The Signal pushes well past expectations coming from a modest budget (although they wisely keep the scope of the film very tiny) and features some surprisingly good acting. In the case of the middle chapter there is a very precise sense comic timing. Perhaps a complaint with this film is that by its own internal logic, the filmmakers have written themselves a blank ticket to get away with whatever they want. To state this more clearly, the filmmakers thoroughly delight in screwing with their audience, both in perception and expectation. Whether this is to be considered a stroke of brilliance or full fledge cop-out will likely make or break your experience. Throwing flashbacks, double-fakes and other structural trickery into the equation while remaining a skin-deep entertainment, it demands that the audience stay on its toes. The Signal comes with a wholehearted recommendation from these quarters. It's a bombastic good time at the movies, especially for aficionados of the genre.
The Signal gets a limited release in US theatres from Magnolia on September 7th.