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Review: Sci-fi thriller ‘The Signal’ pulses with originality

The Signal

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With the arrival of William Eubanks' The Signal (in theaters on June 13) moviegoers will be treated to a second highly enjoyable and highly original sci-fi movies in as many weeks ( Edge of Tomorrow would be the other one). Though both films occupy the same genre they are quite different in premise and execution. While Edge of Tomorrow gave us a time loop and an epic war with aliens on a big budget, The Signal, which was comparably made on a micro-budget, gives us something much different, a game of wits that plays out in an isolated and eerie landscape.

(l-r) Brenton Thwaites stars as Nic Eastman and Beau Knapp as Jonah Breck in Will Eubank's new thriller THE SIGNAL, a Focus Features release.
(l-r) Brenton Thwaites stars as Nic Eastman and Beau Knapp as Jonah Breck in Will Eubank's new thriller THE SIGNAL, a Focus Features release.
Focus Features

The Signal follows three MIT students, Nic Eastman, his best pal Jonah and his best girl Haley on a road trip across the Southwest. When the trio takes a detour to pursue a hacker who has been taunting them they find themselves at a home that looks decidedly like something out of a slasher flick, but led by curiosity, they push ahead. A scream from Haley penetrates everything and then Nic’s whole world goes dark. When he wakes up he finds himself in the nightmarish position of being in a locked room that has the trappings of both a hospital and a government compound. Nic is left with nothing but to try to piece together what’s happened to him and find his friends, but thanks to the ominous presence of the mysterious man in charge, Damon, (Laurence Fishburne), that’s no easy task.

Brenton Thwaites, who has recently been seen in Oculus and Maleficent and will next be seen in the iconic role of Jonas in The Giver, stars as Nic. The young actor holds up the weight of this ambitious tale admirably, he is expressive without being overstated and plays off of Fishburne, Olivia Cooke (Haley) and Beau Knapp (Jonah) exceptionally well. The risk in any high-concept project is having too much concept and too little characterization, but The Signal is at its best when the characters interplay.

The concept behind The Signal is quite a novel and clever one, that's best experienced rather than hashed over here, and the story manages to deliver some nice twists and reveals alongside the quality acting that buoys this fun, if imperfect exercise. Yes, there are a few instances where more information could be given and others where character actions don’t hold up (three brainiacs who have a bad feeling still walk into a situation that feels like a trap?), but on the whole, The Signal is sleek and unique.