A bloody masterpiece of a horror movie, this experiment in a horror film, where three directors direct three "Transmissions" based around the premise of a television/broadcast signal turning the mass populous who watches/hears it turning into crazed killing wackaloons, is consistent with its terrifying mania. What is great about it, and what sets it apart from other horror films made today, is how much it sticks with something that makes for real horror (the kind that one could see in The Shining): the uncertainty principle that you can't really know what's going on. Because so much of what happens to the characters and what they do is based around being all fucked up from this signal that "tricks" as one character says, we try and trust what the character is seeing/doing (such as mass beating or murder), but it's not really the case. It becomes a visceral experience of what is most frightening is the worst brought out from ourselves.
None of the character start out being bad... actually, that may not be accurate. There is a character, Lewis Denton, who becomes super defensive of his wife and his ideal of "home" after the signal screws with his mind. But he becomes even more of a psycho from it compared to other people, who are, granted, still psychopathic and unable to discern from the reality around them. But Lewis just gets to a point where his presence just gives one the shivers by his one-track-mind about it. It's even conceivable that he was a dick before the whole signal business happened. Somehow, amid all the craziness (and a supporting character in the first episode - I won't say how he is "just" a supporting character in that part - who is pretty damn nuts too), he is the villain of the story (and with a wonderfully, hard-and-cold performance from AJ Bowen).
|"Is that a piece of quesadilla on your face?" "Grrr"|
But what is insanity? And what is it that makes us so paranoid and distrusting? The Signal takes one of the most potent fears and stretches it to a point that is horrifying but, surprisingly, also quite funny in a super-dark sort of way. Midway through the film, the segment "The Jealousy Monster", takes the aspect of a party that another married couple is throwing in their place and takes it to a level like Luis Bunuel - only still as the horror movie mold it's in. A couple of guests do come, and they seem a little awkward by what they see, which is the married couple all bloodied from the mayhem (and when Lewis comes on the scene looking for his wife it gets much crazier), it's all part of how psycho it gets. But what's so startling is how far the director of this segment takes the comedy that should be, and is, seen which is the surrealism of, say, a random guy outside on fire running past the window, or when the wife's sister or relative or what-have-you seems friendly and sane enough, but is beaten to a pulp anyway. This starts out funny, and then turns incredibly horrific immediately afterward.
Which is the tone of the segment later on (this was the moment my friend and I all shut up watching the film, when Lewis really shows his nastier side all based around the mania with his wife, Mya, who is off to "Terminal 13" to get away from this hellhole of a town): dark humor giving way to brutal but recognizably human terror. It could all be in us to do horror like this, maiming and killing and beating with the rage pouring out like a metalhead on meth-amphetamines. And what's more it comes to the point where after a director shows us something- a character beating up someone, brutally, savagely, with a hammer or a big tank or something- and then later shows it was all in the mind, it makes it further a mind-fucker. I loved not knowing what was going on because I felt so much in confident hands, capable of recognizing that if the pieces are set up, and characters who are likable to start off with like Jerry and Mya, we're with them through the long-haul.
The atmosphere is bloody and savage, and most of it is all about perception. It also understands how this all can be absurd, how it can be taken dramatically, and seeing intelligent beings brought to masses of jelly by their collective fears - being alone, being without love, being without the world - manifests completely. This isn't a bump-scare flick, and it doesn't need to reside in the dark. Sometimes what's right in front of us is enough. The Signal is a stellar example of modern psychological horror, and one of the best in recent memory; that I couldn't really tell one director's style from another (that is they were all serving to tell the same general story with some variation midway through) is to its credit: a truly fruitful independent ($30,000 budget!) collaboration.