‘The Signal’ channels science fiction, horror for journey into wild

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This is the signal. If you hear it, you’ve been chosen.

“The Signal” is a journey into the wild. Expect the unexpected. Be ready to not be ready. Throughout this ever-mutable chain of intertwined and yet disparate events, the viewer’s mind will crawl, walk, run, fly and, probably, explode.

This marvelous film follows the road trip of three friends across the United States. Nic (Brenton Thwaites) and Haley (Olivia Cooke) see their romance crumble, as she moves away from him to California. Jonah (Beau Knapp) is their faithful friend. The potential physical distance starts to erode their affinity and exposes emotional fissures in the darkest and most remote places of their hearts. The narrative constructs a sense of continuous decadence as Nic battles a degenerative disease, which seems to be his constant and everlasting sword of Damocles, holding the storyline by the thinnest of all strings as the echo of unforgivable doom.

Along the way to desolation and new beginnings in the Golden State, they are virtually pursued by a hacker named Nomad. Nic and Jonah locate his position and decide to follow him. What they would find would signify everything for them: the start of a new understanding of life and themselves. They fall; they are lifted, only to awaken in their reckoning.

The signal is devastation and life. It is escaping the inescapable, as we must fear what’s inside ourselves and what’s outside in the unsheltered perilous world — the external walls that do not allow us to be free and the walls within ourselves. It is raw, human and real. Throughout the impeccable cadence of the filmography, relics protect ruins and science fiction evolves into thought.

All this is done under the tutelage of director and co-writer William Eubank. The Daily Californian sat down with him to deepen the artistic and metaphysical questions the movie proposes. After his previous work in “Love,” which he considers “a visual poem, not traditional narrative,” he has attempted to “build a different type of beast.” This science fiction story of uncertainty, thought and hope takes the concepts of reality and truth and pays them no tribute, as their virtues are distorted into the mist of delusion.

Eubank describes the film as a tale of the confrontation between “emotion and logic.” An extraordinary story that will push you into questioning reality as more than what is given. He considers the movie special on two levels. First, “the soul of the film is about a kid trying to find his emotional self. He considers his emotions are weak and wants to think more logically — he tries to push away emotions. He will discover that emotions are not weaknesses; they are empowering.” The story relates to Eubank on a personal level too, as he admits he “is a person that struggles with that. But your emotional self is one of the most important parts of who you are.” Second, it is the fact that you will “be entertained, forced to think along the way and have a good time doing it. I want to affect people, give them a wild ride, as they think about connections on a higher level.” The movie is a “mind-bending crazy trip.”

“The Signal” analyzes and performs a vivisection of science fiction tropes, as Eubank masterfully deconstructs them. Mixing genres that range from indie films to classic horror to the most primeval origins of science fiction, and even manga-inspired action, “The Signal” purges absolute and deep-rooted filmographic systems. It emerges defiant to predefined concepts of genre structure.

This is, in Eubank’s words, “a movie that flips you. You think you’re watching a thing, and then you’re watching another. It is the audience that defines a genre, as we create a box to try to put the film into.” “The Signal” escapes those absolute, categorical boxes. This is an aggregate “of things that I love — the pieces become so contrasted that in the end you feel like you watched different genres. But I just want people to feel something.”

The inventive cinematography does not discern between the unconceivable confines of memory and the intense incandescence of revealed truth. In an unforgettable and provoking manner, visual transgressions convey a pure and powerful story that disobeys canon and creates a breach in the science fiction structure. A director who did not go to film school, merely 27 days of filming, $4 million and a young cast — which Eubank describes as “great human beings” — orchestrate a masterpiece of thought. The performance by the cast’s heavyweight, Laurence Fishburne, who plays Dr. Wallace Damon, puts the cherry on top of this perfectly delirious journey.

In Eubank’s closing statements to The Daily Californian, he said, “Go watch it knowing as little as you can. If you enjoy it, tell people about it. Science fiction is such a cool way to explore ourselves and reality — to go deep into ideas that everyone can relate to in this crazy world.” This is an exceptional mold-breaking film that is not afraid to deviate from the prescribed path, rejecting the blueprints of science fiction ancestry to achieve something special.

Contact David Socol at [email protected].