Sunday, June 15, 2014

"The Signal": If you get abducted, expect to go bald in the legs

The Signal” (by William Eubank, based on his own short story) is another sci-fi road movie, with some likeable characters, where you fear what is going to happen to them.  The material and style come from a variety of other movies, ranging from “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Last Broadcast” all the way to “District 9”, maybe with a pinch of “Bugcrush”.  And don’t forget “Legion” (reviewed on my “cf” blog, Jan. 26, 2010).  
Nic Eastman (Brenton Thwaites) is the lead, an all-around brilliant college student who has been mysteriously injured and walks on crutches.  (There are flashbacks suggesting that it could have happened in a stream crossing, or even on a merry-go-round, both with his girl friend Hailey (Olivia Cooke) present.  You really want him to recover fully without complications.)   The other male lead is the even more geeky Jonah (Beau Knapp).  But any parents or teachers would have been proud of them both.  After fooling around with some gaming, they get some bizarre messages from a hacker, showing that they are being watched.  The hacker invites them to drive to meet them somewhere in the Nevada Desert, near Area 51, to solve a mystery.  Of course they go, which is not too prudent.
They arrive at a shackin the scrub desert at around midnight.  As they prance around the ruin (like in Blair Witch) they see Hailey “go up”.  Suddenly, the black out. 
Nic wakes up in a top secret facility, reminiscent of “The Andromeda Strain”.  Pretty soon he learns from Damon (Laurence Fishburne, in a space suit) that he was abducted, and has to be kept in quarantine.  That’s pretty much ditto for the friends, whom he is very concerned about.  It’s about thirty minutes into the 95-minute film now.  The middle of the film is spend indoors in this Area 51 “hospital”, before they break out.  Suffice it to say, Nic will walk  -- and run again, although, let’s say, he had to go bald in the legs.  Well, it’s all Pistorius style.  In fact, he’s not the only character with alien, bionic new replacement body parts.  The last third of the movie has the usual chases and implications that we have an evil, NSA-driven government.
Again, the three main characters are so likeable that the movie doesn’t necessarily need the gee-whiz chases to sell tickets and DVD’s.  (I could imagine this movie with Timo Descamps and Richard Harmon from “Judas Kiss” as the male leads.)  I think there could have been more attention to the “explanation” – for opener, the idea that if we’re going to move to an alien planet some day because ours dies, we need to change bodies (and our notions of body image). I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the very end gives us a glimpse of what a city on another world (20+ light years away) may look like – something right out of one of Clive Barker’s other dominions in the book “Imajica”.
The official site from Focus Features is here

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos, NM appears in the film.  The Lama Foundation, which I visited twice in the 1980s, is to the east in the mountains.  Wikipedia attribution link  Second picture, eastern NM, my trip, Nov. 2011. 
 Curiously, some of the movie was filmed in Ohio, but the western locations appear to be in the Taos area. 

I saw the film at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington Sunday night before a sparse audience. I do wonder how they did the prosthetics.

There is a preview trailer scene (with Nic having electrocardiographic leads) that does not seem to appear in the film, so it may be a deleted scene for the DVD. 

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