The Signal film review: Is it really a future sci-fi classic?

Laurence Fishburne stars in William Eubank’s second feature, much-hyped SF thriller The Signal

We’ve had what feels like a long run of terrible alien abduction horror movies recently, so William Eubank’s thoughtful and tender portrayal of an extraterrestrial encounter feels like something of a reprieve. Admittedly, we have had to wait some time to see it (it has had very good word of mouth from its festival run), but it’s a relief to say that it’s worth the wait.

Nic (Brenton Thwaites) is driving across country with his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) and best friend Jonah (Beau Knapp) when they come across what could be the home address of a hacker who has been tormenting them. They decide to take a detour and surprise the guy, but the house in the middle of nowhere has a surprise for them. When Nic wakes up, he’s in an underground facility where Damon (Laurence Fishburne), a scientist in a Hazmat suit, tells him he may have encountered extraterrestrial life.

The Signal is a nifty sci-fi thriller that makes the most of its limited location, turning a likeable road movie about a young guy struggling with the early stages of MS and an impending break-up into a tense puzzle. The plot kicks into gear once Nic wakes up underground, but Eubank ensures our involvement in his story with great casting and beautiful cinematography that reinforces the harsh nature of this new environment he’s trapped in.

It’s tough to talk too much about the story without ruining its twists (which are fairly predictable, but where’s the fun in that?). However, we can say that the three leads are very strong (Knapp is particularly good, skirting the usual pitfalls of the ‘quirky best friend’ role) and Fishburne is perfectly cast; his calm but authoritarian tone establishing that Nic may well be in more trouble than he realises. Of the cast, only the ever-watchable Cooke is wasted, which is a shame.

However, as Eubank builds towards the finale, you’ll find that you’re fully invested in Nic’s story. There’s some beautiful cinematography and some excellent effects work, and this is a striking, affecting piece of work that lives up to its great buzz.