- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

The media is really taking it on the chin at the cineplex these days.

First, George A. Romero rips the YouTube generation with “Diary of the Dead.” Now, a mysterious transmission causes television viewers to turn violent in the new horror film “The Signal.” The movie, from the minds of three writer-directors, wants to warn us about our increasingly plugged-in lives.

But while Mr. Romero fumbled his message by leaving out the scares, “The Signal” overdoses on gratuitous violence every time it seems on the verge of saying something profound.

Horror hounds may still make “The Signal” into a cult darling. Its mix of gore and gallows humor is just the elixir to draw midnight crowds. But a discerning eye sees mostly missed opportunities.

“The Signal” is split into three “transmissions,” but it’s really one tale with a few overlapping flashbacks to stitch it in place.

It begins with a scene straight out of a ‘70s slasher flick, but then abruptly morphs into a television’s scrambled transmission.

The set in question belongs to Ben (Justin Welborn), who is trying to convince Mya (Anessa Ramsey) to leave her husband. But Mya hasn’t gathered the courageto break free just yet. So she leaves Ben to go back home to her husband, Lewis (A.J. Bowen).

That’s when the horror show begins.

The residents of Mya’s apartment complex are milling about nervously in the hallways. When Mya enters her apartment, she finds Lewis screaming at two of his pals who stopped by to watch the ballgame.

The television’s reception is scrambled just like Ben’s set. And none of their cell phones work, either.

Lewis’ rage builds into a deadly force, and the hallway is quickly filled with dead bodies.

Those transmissions are scrambling people’s brains, leaving them consumed with unprocessed rage.

The mania isn’t far removed from 2002’s “28 Days Later,” a film which clearly influenced “The Signal’s” visual tone.

Mya flees her building and starts heading for the local train terminal. She and Ben had talked about heading out of town to start a new life together, and the night’s shattering events convince her to seize the moment.

But leaving Lewis behind won’t be so simple in this new, topsy-turvy world.

“The Signal’s” early sequences are rigorously unnerving. Ben and Mya’s only scene together is enough to impress upon us the depth of their passion.

The middle portion takes a darkly comic detour, as Lewis’ quest to find Mya leads him to a suburban housewife (Cheri Christian) in deep denial over the transmission’s fallout.

It’s often laugh out loud funny, but the gags deflate the horrific elements. It’s also mean-spirited, something we’ll see much more of as the film winds toward its ugly end.

Like budding horror maven Eli Roth (the “Hostel” films), the trio of directors behind “The Signal” (David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry) clearly have talent. But collectively they lack the maturity to bring this complex tale together.

Instead, we get flashes of brilliance and a screenplay which folds in upon itself a few too many times.

Allusions to modern-day fears abound, sometimes cleverly woven into the action, but more often forced into the mouths of its key players.

“The Signal” may be blaming the media for our growing disconnect with what makes us human, but it’s just as guilty of numbing its audience to nonstop atrocities.


TITLE: “The Signal”

RATING: R (Graphic violence, disturbing imagery, gore and adult language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry.

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

WEB SITE: www.doyouhavethecrazy.com


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