Sunday, November 23, 2014

Movie Review: The Signal

This is one of those frustrating movies that starts with a pretty good idea, does a passable job of developing it, has gorgeous special effects and competent acting, but... something's lost in the storytelling.  In a spoiler-free nutshell here's the story: three MIT students are driving cross-country and end up abducted by aliens.  (space, not the other kind)  Then weird stuff happens (leaving out the spoilers), there are several discoveries along the way, there's a struggle and a chase scene, and there's a Big Reveal at the end.

OK, so far so good.  The problems come in when these alleged hot-shots don't act like the science/engineering students they're supposed to be.  Apart from one sub-plot dealing with an intricate plan to get out of this mess, these characters don't exhibit the ingrained curiosity and compulsive problem-solving that they would in real life.  Instead, we are handed a few isolated instances of reasonably bright behavior mired in a sea of generic 20-something activity.  When they finally get a glimpse of alien technology, they're not particularly interested in it, they treat it more with indifferent disgust.  These aren't early-20's tech students, they're dumbed-down late-20's cubical workers.  Who gives a hoot about watching that?

The bright spots in this movie were the special effects and Laurence Fishburne's maddeningly deadpan Dr. Damon.  The Blair Witch Project vibe of the first third helped too, though it may have borrowed too heavily there.  Apart from that, there's a kind of aching curiosity this movie forces on you, but by they last third it had turned from "what's next?" to "when will this turkey end?"

Bottom line: A fine idea wrecked by poor storytelling.  2 stars out of 4.  One star for taking big chances with a cool idea, another star for decent acting and film work.  If you want more, here's the link to Rotten Tomatoes.

Stop.  Turn around.  Come back when you have developed storytelling skills.

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