Too fuzzy and indistinct to work on either a literal or a metaphoric level, The Signal nonetheless pulses with enough random static to hold viewers’ attention—and not just gorehounds. The setting is a vague megalopolis, mossy in the greenish cast of some truly ugly videography. One nondescript day, all of the televisions begin to emit an odd warble, accompanied by a gooey color pattern that uncharitable moviegoers might liken to a Lava lamp. People begin to go crazy—as in George Romero’s The Crazies—and wield sharp objects. Oh, that devilish media of ours.
Nothing new here. But the trio behind the camera have each staked out a third of the running time for themselves, creating some unlikely tonal shifts for a horror film, ranging from straight-ahead thrills in a segment about an unfaithful wife (Ramsey) to dark chuckles at a party scene run amok, featuring the most unsettling maintenance man in indie-flick history (Bowen). An earlier cut of the film that played at Sundance found a nice fulcrum in Lou Reed’s droll “Perfect Day”—which has since been replaced for rights reasons with an inferior Joy Division cover—and the irony of Reed’s croaking vocal helped a lot. Now, The Signal broadcasts against its generic qualities, but only in spurts and waves.