‘The Signal’ should be turned on, not off

New on DVD June 10 from Magnolia, The Signal is a bold little horror-comedy, if only because it so shamelessly — yet effectively — steals from other films, lacing elements of The Ring (a TV-sparked signal launches disaster) into a movie whose tone shifts from the tragic world-ending horror of 28 Days Later to the bizarre dark comedy of Shaun of the Dead.

The best part is the humor, smack dab in the middle of a film clearly designed as a three-act story by the three men who wrote and directed each segment, shooting in Atlanta and calling their fantasy town Terminus. Flashbacks and creative editing stitch the stories together by alternating between characters’ perspectives.

It seems a strangely garbled TV signal has sparked a plague of maniacal murdering in almost all of humanity (think zombie movies, but with no living-dead shambles) and only a few folks are unaffected. These include two star-crossed lovers who become separated and, as in Cloverfield, spend most of the movie winding their way toward reconnecting.

The love story is rather lame; I don’t think the three writer-directors have a clue, and their romance is meaningful only because the script says so. But when it comes to ghoulish horror and twisted humor, they know their stuff, especially in Act II.

Then, the protagonists’ paths cross those of a chirpy middle class couple who have planned a New Year’s Eve party. And even though bloody corpses are piling up everywhere, they dutifully try to “act natural” and keep up a bravely convivial front. One must be a good host, after all.

Beyond such mirth, the film is rather bleak, but then, that’s its premise. And it should be. You could argue that all of us, while so hopelessly plugged into our TVs, computers, cells and other masturbatory gadgets, are an accident waiting to happen, even if that accident is a deadly signal which unleashes murderous madness. With our slavish devotion to self-indulgent fixations on technology, we’re certainly ripe for it. (Stephen King took his own stab in his book The Cell.) Just don’t forget to supply the party favors. You never know when someone with a sledge hammer will ring your doorbell, and you wouldn’t want to disappoint them. 

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