THE SIGNAL // Actor Brenton Thwaites has been on a roll lately. Most recently you have seen him as the leading role in “The Giver”, playing Jonas alongside Jeff Bridges’ title character, before that he made a brief appearance in “Maleficent” as the prince, and the first thing I saw him in this year was Mike Flanagan’s horror film “Oculus”. Add to that science fiction film “The Signal”, where he also stars lead alongside Olivia Cooke and Laurence Fishburne, and Thwaites has had quite the impressive year already. The reason a film like “The Signal” is so important to a blossoming actor is that there is an emotional level that science fiction helps push those actors past. In science fiction, there are no boundaries and that proves extremely true with this out of the box, sci-fi thriller.
At the film’s heart, “The Signal” is a love story. Nic (Brenton Thwaites) is about to lose his girlfriend, Haley (Olivia Cooke), as they road trip from Massachusetts to drop her off in California along with their hacker friend Jonah (Beau Knapp). With his muscular dystrophy already distancing himself from her, Nic sees Haley’s move as a death sentence to their relationship. Deciding to take a detour in order to expose a fellow hacker with the moniker NOMAD who almost got them expelled from MIT prior to the start of the film, they find themselves in an abandoned house somewhere in the Nevada desert. When Haley goes missing from the car, all three of them find themselves pulled into the air by some unknown force. Waking up in an underground research facility lead by Dr. William Damon (Laurence Fishburne), Nic has been separated from his friends and is told they have all been exposed to an EBE (extra-terrestrial biological entity) and must remain here to be studied. The reveals that follow come in true science fiction fashion as Nic grows paranoid, tries to find Haley, and eventually attempts to escape the facility.
Completely comfortable in his surroundings, Brenton Thwaites proves his full versatility in this role alone. Helped immensely by the overbearing nature of Laurence Fishburne, who is no stranger to science fiction, Thwaites commits fully to the emotions of the role and the picture of him screaming is proof enough of the levels he is willing to go. Fishburne provides the much needed star power to guide the film along and rides the line perfectly between caring HAZMAT suit wearing scientist and potential villain. Another standout performance comes from Olivia Cooke, who has also seen her star rise this year. Cooke may not have much of a performance as she remains in a coma through most of the facility scenes, but offering up enough emotion in the opening sequences as well as the flashbacks provides the audience with something to hold on to. In its conclusion, “The Signal” delivers in true science fiction form and even though the reveal does not quite going for the turn less traveled, the visual styles and dark toned themes really make this a memorable science fiction jaunt.
[Directed by William Eubank] [PG-13] [97 min] [13 June 2014]