(2007)3.5Jason BuchananAn intimate study of the apocalypse, as seen from the perspective of a small group of survivors whose perception may or may not have been irreparably damaged by a sanity-scrambling transmission of unknown origins, David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry's ambitious sci-fi horror film fluctuates between horrific, hilarious, and hopelessly amateurish -- often in the course of a single scene -- but ultimately manages to frighten and surprise, thanks to the fact that these filmmakers were willing to take a few bold risks. Every television, telephone, and "connected" piece of technology has been inexplicably overridden by an omnipresent signal that transforms otherwise sane people into murderous psychopaths -- trouble is, the "infected" folks believe themselves to be completely sane. Ben (Justin Welborn) is determined to rescue his married lover, Mya (Anessa Ramsey), from her menacing husband, Lewis (AJ Bowen), but it's not going to be an easy task considering that the crazies have flooded the city streets with rivers of blood. The Signal is an exquisite corpse-style film told in three separate chapters -- each written and directed by one of the three filmmakers -- and as a result it's a bit of a mixed bag.
"Transmission I" sets up the story by following Mya as she leaves Ben's apartment to return to Lewis: the two lovers have made tenuous plans to run away together the following day -- New Year's Eve -- but they're about to be driven apart by forces beyond their control. "Transmission II" follows Ben and Lewis' search for Mya at a New Year's Eve party gone horribly awry, and "Transmission III" follows everyone to the terminal where Mya and Ben had planned to rendezvous. Each transmission has its fair share of surprises, and it's fun to watch as the filmmakers try out different narrative techniques, toy with viewers' expectations, and attempt to make the audience experience the disorientation of the "infected" firsthand. Bruckner, Bush, and Gentry are just starting out in the world of filmmaking, so in order to become truly immersed in their respective stories it's often necessary to overlook some of the more amateurish aspects of the production. The continuity and logic often leave something to be desired, and the acting is a bit uneven for starters (though AJ Bowen, Scott Poythress, and Chad McKnight do stand out as the unpredictable husband, the well-meaning landlord, and the clueless party guest respectively), but innovation and creativity ultimately win out in the end. The second transmission highlights the inherent absurdity of the situation, often bordering on outright comedy before delivering some of the biggest shocks that the film has to offer. In the end, it's obvious that each filmmaker took some very distinct risks with their respective transmissions, and viewers hungry for a creative alternative to the typical box-office fright fare are more likely than not to appreciate their efforts.