CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Sometimes it's a good idea to rewatch movies: not just the classics you already love, but the ones you didn't entirely get the first time around. Obviously it doesn't apply to everything (there's no way I'm going back to Police Academy 7: Mission To Moscow, for example), but it does for films that had something about them you can't quite identify. This science fiction thriller is a good example: to be honest it wasn't entirely satisfying when I first saw as the closing film at last year's Frightfest, where I liked it but didn't love it. Sadly, a second viewing doesn't improve matters much, though it does highlight more clearly where it didn't work for me.
Three friends Nic (Brenton Thwaites), Haley (Olivia Cooke) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) are on a road trip to California to drop her off at her exciting new college. It's a fraught journey since it looks as though Nic and Haley are on the point of breaking up, and Nic is suffering from a severe muscular condition. But they're also on the trail of Nomad, a mastermind hacker who broke into the MIT servers, and they've pinpointed his location as a remote shack in the Nevada desert (which happily isn't very far out of their way). They find nothing in the shack, but suddenly there's a massive disturbance and they wake up in some kind of top secret government bunker populated by scientists in hazmat suits led by Laurence Fishburne. Have they contracted some kind of infection? Is it an alien attack? Even though it's clearly the wrong thing to do, Nic decides to escape the base and take Haley with him - an easier than expected task, almost as if the scientists are letting them go. But where are they and what's out there?
The main problem with The Signal would appear to be pacing: the build-up is slow, which means it feels like it takes ages to get going, and then the last ten minutes or so take the movie into mind-distending realms of science fiction rather than fantasy, with a series of climactic revelations that unfortunately don't add up, leaving a sense of "uh, what?" as the end credits roll. One, concerning the empty drinks cans in the diner, even recalls the fairly silly Tom Baker Doctor Who story The Android Invasion, in which all the coins are mysteriously freshly minted and there are no dates on the calendars.
It's still an interesting film, though: it's always good to see Laurence Fishburne, and there's another noodly synth/ambient score plink-plonking away in the background. Certainly the film looks superb (William Eubank directed Love, which also looked terrific but didn't hang together as a plot), and it's well put together, but the Six Million Dollar Man sequences towards the end actually look a touch silly and the narrative doesn't entirely explain, for example, what Lin Shaye's dotty motorist is doing there. Not a total success, but the ideas are fascinating, the setting is well used and it's technically pretty good for the low budget ($4m according to the IMDb).