Insomniac Movie Review: The Signal

Most people take sleep for granted. You get tired, you go to sleep. No problem. I’ve never been able to do that. Maybe I was out the day they went over it in kindergarten. Maybe I did something to anger the Sandman (Bastard, I bought your comics!).

Bad chemistry? Bad stress? Bad karma? Who knows. Anyway this isn’t a sob story. The point is that I spend a fair amount of time awake at strange hours, too tired to think. So I watch movies.

Now, let me say up front that the things that make a movie great at 4am are very different from the things that make a movie great at 9pm. The later it gets, the more I’m willing to forgive plot holes, leaps in logic, or acting quality. I want novelty. I want a new approach on an old story, a clever dramatic structure, or something completely out of left field.

Last night’s The Signal was just that kind of movie. It got some decent reviews, so I gave it a shot.

The story goes something like this: A mysterious signal suddenly appears on every TV and radio, causing about half of the people who hear it to start calmly killing everyone around them. We follow a woman and her lover as, in separate stories, they each try to escape her husband and get to the train station so that they can Amtrak together to happiness. Unicorns and shiny, shiny rainbows for everyone!

This was a strange movie. Really strange.

Structure. Subject. Performances. Strange.

At 4am, it was awesome.

The story is told in three distinct acts. The beginning and end are the same sort of action/horror movie with desperate escapes and murder-fu. Scary, dark corners. Characters are beaten up, shot, and beaten up some more. Then everybody hallucinates for a while.

Right in the middle, though, it turns into a different movie for about half an hour. Same story, same people, picking up right where part one left off, only now it’s a “satire”. They play the situation for “laughs”. Except that sometimes characters seem randomly to realize what’s going on and get upset about having committed murder or being surrounded by corpses … but then it’s right back to the zany. Isn’t it funny how they don’t care that they’re killing each other? And then one character casually blinds another so we get to see her stumbling around, trying to find her husband whom she’s forgotten that she had murdered earlier. Ha ha!

Then it’s right back to the straight horror film for the final third. Must. Find. Girl. Hallucinate for a while. Amtrak. Ambiguous, unhappy ending.

So it’s horror, then satire of that horror, then back to horror again. Huh? The satire in the middle kind of undercuts the horror that comes after it.

And no, they never tell you what the signal was or why or who did it. There’s some nutty rambling by one character, but I don’t know if it was meant to be taken seriously. Another keeps yelling, “THE SIGNAL IS A LIE”, but he might have just thought he was watching Fox news.

If you’re awake at 4am, tired, have low expectations, and don’t mind dumb sci-fi/horror movies, then this one is different enough to keep your attention. Which makes it great.

Awake or before midnight, you probably won’t make it to the half way point.

Hm. I probably need some sort of rating system here. I give it four fluffy pillows, or.. uhh This is a two Ambien Screamer… no, maybe… This Movie Gets Good At: 3am. Yeah, I like that. My rating represents the time of day when the cleverness of the premise outweighs the awfulness of the production.

The Signal starts to look good at around 3am. Steve says check it out.

Got any recommendations? I can’t sleep. What should I be watching?

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