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The Signal: Strong Enough for a Look

June 15, 2009

The Signal, 2008’s social commentary on the destructive nature of television, begins like many of the worst horror movie retreads of the past 3 decades.  Grainy, bloody, and horrific, the opening scene works to have us believe that what we are watching is a low budget torture flick.  And for much of the opening, this is what we get.  Told in 3 parts by 3 different writer/directors, The Signal ranges from tired retread to brilliant dark comedy while always maintaining a certain tension beneath the surface. 

Does Ben have the crazy?

Does Ben have the crazy?

Mya is having an affair with Ben, who stands naked in front of the static filled television.  Mya, needing to get home to her husband, quickly dresses while Ben tries to convince her to leave her husband.  As part of his efforts, kindly Ben gives her a CD mix hoping for that sentimental game changer.  

At home, Mya’s husband Lewis and his two friends are trying to fix the television.  Lewis, agitated and suspicious of his wife’s late arrival, loses his temper and violently attacks one of his friends with a hammer.  While Rod works hard to restrain his buddy from exacting further skull shattering damage to his already dead friend, Mya escapes the apartment to find the building in chaos.  Witnessing various gruesome acts, she knocks frantically on her neighbor’s door. So far, The Signal is amateurish at it worst, but it is also oddly intriguing and shocking in its matter of fact delivery.  The camera doesn’t linger or unnecessarily glorify the action.  It is “just” happening, like life.

Transmission 1: Crazy in Love sets the stage for the mayhem and brutality to follow. The static filled television sets are too much for the average person to ignore, and it “gets in your brain and distorts your perception.” The first segment is deadly serious and violent and filled with some off balanced and quirky dialogue.  Rod explains to Mya in a talky, redundant moment, that “1 out of 2” start killing each other.  He then asks her, “Do you have the crazy in you?”

However, just as I was about to write The Signal off as another weak effort to capitalize on the current, albeit waning, wave of cinematic torture porn disguised as horror, the second Transmission begins.  “Jealousy Monster” is hilarious and dark, and as “rational thinking gives way to primordial action,” the viewer is treated to a dynamic, laugh out loud, pitch black comedy of errors.  Filled with dialogue like “exterminate with extreme prejudice,” “I’d like to grab a slut and pee inside her butt,” and “TV got inside your brain and distorted your reality,” segment 2 is part horror, part slapstick, and all hilarious fun. It is Shaun of the Dead meets Dead/Alive.

The Signal is really a small movie with a small cast, but it presents itself much bigger and works to at least remind us that we need to continue the debate over the effects of television.  In one of the films most powerful lines, Ben says, “I don’t know what started it, but we sure as shit signed up for it.”  Although the movie’s themes are hard hitting and up front, it is lines like these that still manage to break through.  We are all participants in our society, and if we blame television for the ills of society, then we must only blame ourselves for “signing on” each day.

we have only ourselves to blame

we have only ourselves to blame

As the signal winds down during the third segment, there is not much more to absorb.  There are some clever moments throughout, including a social comment on the falsity of marriage,  and the three segments are tied together nicely using layered flashbacks. The finale is only mildly interesting, but the ingenius middle segment and the film’s attempt to ignite a conversation are worth the time spent with this violent love triangle.

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