Friday, February 6, 2015

Movies 2014, "The Signal"

            I already did my science fiction reviews, but managed to watch this one from Redbox and I hated it so much that I am going to give a massive in depth run down of it.  Because much like "Prometheus" it is a movie that sucks in a very interesting way.  Building expertly to a climax that fails completely and leaves you terribly disappointed.  I had high hopes for this movie because the trailer is fantastic.

            (This is all SPOILERS, but it will also tell you why not to watch it.  If you like cryptic bullshit, by all means go see it.  But I would say reading my rundown here and then watching the movie might be even more fulfilling, because you will be able to see my issues with the movie as you go along).

            This might be the most disappointing film I saw all year (and it is the movie I am editing this blog for).  This is yet another movie in the tradition of Damon Lindelof in which striking images, iconography, and intentional obtuseness serve as stand ins for plot and theme.

            What I liked, I actually find that they played to their strengths in a lot of ways, special effects cost money, so most of the mundane sets are intentionally boring and out of date, most of this movie looks like it was filmed in a high school that was out on summer break.  The effects look really good and are only seen often enough to remind you of their existence and relation to the "plot", meaning that they do not wear out their welcome and their appearance still looks cool and mysterious.  I like that the main character is smart, inventive, and not invincible, he seems like a good guy in a hard situation and displays real worry about his friends while also displaying a drive to save them and himself.  Laurence Fishburne is well cast as the cryptic authority figure, a role he has exemplified ever since first encapsulating everything about that character arc type with Cowboy Curtis on "Pee Wee's Playhouse".

"Welcome to the desert of the real," considering how much of the movie takes place in a desert that like is very one the nose.
            Now what I did not like: 1) The "plot".  And I will use quotation marks every time I refer to it as such.  This movie starts with a pair of hackers going on a road trip to take one of them's girlfriend to her new college on the other side of the country, both of the hackers have physical limitations, one has thick glasses and is spindly, the main character uses crutches.

            This set up is easily a pitch for a movie on its own, you could have the characters use hacking skills to steal money, the girlfriend could explain why she is moving away because the main character's condition is worsening and she lacks the emotional strength to be with him... there is a lot of room for interesting stuff without any science fiction entering the picture.  But the real "plot" is that the two hackers are going to make a detour to meet a rival hacker named Nomad that they have been in a dick measuring contest with, really they are hunting down this figure to a remote shack in the desert... Yeah nothing bad could happen here.  For some reason the movie switches to found footage style for this sequence, like something out of "V/H/S", it is a strange choice.  Anyway, they are abducted by aliens.

It happens.  People get abducted.  No reason to be a little pussy about it.
          Now overall the movie has been a little slow, but there is still a lot of exciting things happening.  The mystery and character moments are spaced out enough that the boring parts feel like build up (they aren't) and the twists are just twisty enough to keep you interested.  But then it all starts going to hell.

            The main character wakes up in a lab surrounded by scientists in hazmat gear.  They run tests on him and the strangely low tech aspect of the facility is highlighted, "With all our technology, it is strange that something so crude as a pen still has its place."  (That quote hung with me, but is not on the imdb page.)  Again, good mystery.  But stuff keeps getting introduced, somewhere in the facility there is some kind of monster, which never shown on screen, just claw marks in the walls... and it is never seen in the movie or referenced again... Massive red herring or just a dropped "plot" point?  The Main character hears his friend's voice thru the ventilation system... And then he doesn't, and is told he never did... is he going crazy, are they lying, another dropped "plot" point?  These parts of the movie are never brought up again and lead to nothing.

            Eventually he rescues himself and his girlfriend... Learning that he and the other hacker have had cybernetics bolted onto them.  The both with crutches now has mechanized legs that allow him to Sparta kick people to death.  And the kid with the weak eyes, he must have some kind of Geordi visor right?  No he got cybernetic hands... But is still blind without his glasses?  Was it too much trouble to have his disability match his implant?  (And really having the Visor would have made more sense because he is the one who sees thru the fake surroundings... It is called a metaphor).

            Then we enter the strangest part of the movie, the wandering around interacting with crazy people in a remote desert area.  There is a woman with a Christ fixation, and a violent trucker... Why they are crazy is never explained... Does the main character have some kind of disease from the aliens causing people to go mad, are these people part of some kind of experiment?  It is never answered and later in the movie they are seen ultra-crazy and Laurence Fishburne has to shoot them in the face.... SOMETHING WHICH MAKES NO SENSE WHEN THE ULTIMATE REVELATION ABOUT THE MOVIE IS REVEALED.

            Eventually the main character, the girlfriend, and the other friend all meet up and use a truck to try and escape, having found out that everything they have encountered is just an elaborate fake, a set.  All of the milk containers, cans, and other items are empty.  And the maps they find don't line up to anything.  WHERE ARE THEY?  There is also a mysterious series of numbers (Hello Damon Lindelof's "LOST") but at the very least the numbers are explained... 41:2:3:5 which all add up to 51.  They are in area 51.  Which would have been cute if this movie were made in 1980, but since Area 51 has been mostly declassified as a research station for experimental aircraft, and pictures of it exist online the movie just seems silly and out of touch, like a shittier episode of the "X-Files" (another series which kept throwing shit out to the audience and offering awful explanations).

Including the writers, who clearly had no idea where this was going.
            Thru out all this we keep flashing back to the main character being a runner and coming to a rushing river he can't cross, or times he fell in the mud.  I was expecting these scenes to pay off somehow, that he would come to a metaphorical river, or he would fall down and have to get up... But it doesn't pay off, and it is never talked about either.  He runs with the new cyber legs at super speed, but at no point is it explained what the flashbacks were about.  And then the movie's cinematography gets obnoxious, with slow motion of EVERYTHING.  Explosions, gun fights, characters making realizations, it makes the movie's most exciting science fiction action sequences into boring slogs as things are slowed to the point of stopping.  And the best friend with cyber arms is killed fighting waves of faceless and nameless soldiers.  Another problem with this movie, aside from Fishburne, no soldier or scientist talks to the characters... at all.  Maybe it is supposed to make them seem more hostile but really it just seems annoying.

            Finally there is a confrontation with Fishburne, whose name in this movie is DAMON, which when read backward is NOMAD!  MY GOD!  It's now all going to make sense....

Nope.  Still doesn't make any sense.
            Nothing is explained.  ONLY MORE QUESTIONS.  I do not want everything fed to me, I can make up my own explanations for things.  I am smart and have read a lot of genre fiction.  If you give me clues I can put things together... But this movie just keeps twisting things to the point of it not making sense.  The girlfriend is captured, we never learn if or what cyber augmentations she got... another dead end plot point.

            And with an army of soldiers and scientists telling him to surrender the main character charges up his legs like "Dragon Ball Z" and runs to a bridge to escape... He then crashes thru an invisible wall... the whole thing was a "Truman Show" like dome... and that is not all, IT IS ON A SPACE STATION ORBITING AN ALIEN WORLD.  And: FISHBURNE IS AN ANDROID.

            What does this mean?

            What are we supposed to take away from this?

            What is happening?

            No clue.

            The movie ends without telling you what anything is or the why.  Is it a zoo?  Is this the future?  Where are they?  Did the people earlier go nuts or were they just androids too?  And if they were androids, why shoot them to turn them off?  Was the girlfriend experimented on?  What about that monster in the lab?  Why did the lab have such out of date technology?  What was up with the flashbacks to the running?  Why were they lured to the desert?  Was it for their hacking abilities?  You could never stop asking questions.

Contrary to the clean appearance, this film is a god damn mess.  Am I alone in thinking this image implies time travel?  I thought maybe this movie was going to be a grown up and dark version of "Flight of the Navigator".  Go watch "Flight of the Navigator".

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