Mya Denton has been carrying on an affair with Ben behind her boyfriend's back. Ben tries to convince Mya to run away with him and leave the city of Terminus forever. Not ready for this commitment, she protests and gets ready to head home. Ben gives her a mixed CD before she heads on her way. After her departure, Ben turns on the TV to find a strange signal playing. This signal will soon consume all of Terminus, transforming everyone who looks at it into murderous psychopaths. It's a race against time and all Mya has for a weapon is her Discman.
This movie is broken up into three 'transmissions' or parts. At the helm of each of these is a different director. You might think this wouldn't work well, but it actually keeps each part fresh and the pacing at an even keel. It maintains an intense and interesting, though occasionally nonsensical, story throughout. The ending of each “transmission” blends seamlessly into the next, making you want to find out what happens next. The story is simple - a signal makes people crazy - but it has a good social commentary behind it. Thankfully, however, this isn't crammed down your throat like in some other movies in the genre. At its core though, The Signal is a love story: it’s a simple tale of a boy searching for a girl despite increasingly bleak odds. Really the best kind of love story in my opinion. Unlike Cloverfield… where the odds were not just bleak, but totally impossible, I mean the guy tries to find his girlfriend in a building that is literally in two pieces. Just give up. Why are you dragging your friends along to die with you? But I digress...
The Signal has some very memorable characters. More so than most horror movies I've seen, in fact. The two protagonists are likable and you genuinely want to see them succeed. I find this rather impressive. When I first watched this I was going through a phase where I favoured a harsh and brutal ending to movies. Not here though. I was rooting for Ben, played by Justin Welborn, and Mya, played by Anessa Ramsey the whole way through. The main antagonist, Mya's boyfriend Lewis, the always excellent A.J. Bowen, is just as memorable... maybe more so. His portrayal of the jilted-lover-turned-lunatic is perfect. He skirts the edges of insanity while still managing some lighthearted moments from time to time. He is blindly seeking Mya and won’t let anybody stand in his way. Really, when I think of it, every character in this movie brings something special to the story as it unfolds. Hands down some of the funniest lines are delivered by Jim Parsons though. "Lewis and Clark? Where's Sacajawea?" But I think, unequivocally, my absolute favourite line from any character in any movie is uttered by the character of Clark...."This is without a doubt the most fucked up day in the history of mankind – we should go back inside."
In 2013 I started writing reviews of horror films. I wrote one very small blurb about my top 31 every single day that October. While it was difficult to choose which movies would even make the list, I knew that The Signal would be in the number one spot. You can take the best elements from practically every single movie in the genre: the humour of Trick R’ Treat or Return of the Living Dead, the intensity of The Strangers or the Devil's Rejects and the brutal special effects of Inside or Frontiers and if you wrap them all up in a love story and you get The Signal. It didn't best the others in regards to each individual element, it won because it blends them seamlessly into one perfect movie. Now, years later, my top choice has probably changed at this point, but one thing has never changed and that is how much I love this film. I can go back and watch it any time.
Do I think you'd enjoy it? Well, I can't say for sure. Having three sections (transmissions) of such varying tones is a little unusual and might be off-putting to some. I do, however, think they managed to put them together in a rather cohesive narrative that works well. If you have not seen this, I urge you to find a copy as soon as possible. Who knows, maybe it will be your new favourite horror movie as well.