It's getting late in this city, and the television in Ben's bedroom appears to be on the blink as the movie it was playing has been replaced with a strange mixture of sound and light, as if there had been a break in transmission - or perhaps this is a new transmission altogether? Now he is awake, Ben (Justin Welborn) goes over to turn the set off, waking his girlfriend Mya (Anessa Ramsey) who realises she will have to leave; this is because she is already married to Lewis (AJ Bowen), and he will be wondering where she is at this time of night. But as she bids Ben farewell and goes to her car, she senses things are not quite right...
The Signal was a production filmed by three writer-directors who each took a segment of half an hour or so to tell a story, but this was no portmanteau horror as each part led into the next, and some of the same characters appeared in each. It sounds like a recipe for a muddle of different styles all jostling for position as the one you'll remember once the credits roll, but it was not like that at all, due to a genuine unity in the tone that meant, unless you had been told, you would never have known that this was the work of three directors at all.
That's not to say that each segment, or "Transmission" as they are termed, is taken from a samey template, as there are distinct shifts in approach between each, so the middle section is more black comedy than the others, and the first has more to do with the mounting dread of the situation than the final. That situation is that the signal of the title is being sent over all electrical media, from radios to telephones to the television, and although we never find out why or who is sending it, we can see the end result: the population driven to acts of violence and hallucinating their way through the night and beyond as justification for what they think is happening.
Naturally, not everyone is afflicted, but it grows very difficult to work out who is under the influence and who is merely defending themselves against the threat of getting beaten to death for no good reason. Although operating on a low budget, the filmmakers never let us sink back into thinking this is the world's most limited apocalypse as while we never see such elaborate special effects shots as the city in flames for example, intelligent use of extras does render the paranoia almost palpable as any one of them, aside from the ones lying dead on the ground, could turn against the main characters at any time.
Mya does make it back to her apartment and is baffled to see the corridors so busy at one o'clock in the morning, but when she is confronted by Lewis she deflects his questioning with some well-rehearsed excuses. However, his jealousy could also be an aspect of his brainwashing as he smashes in the head of one of his friends who was over to watch the game and Mya quickly surmises she has to get the hell out of there. But outside it is no less dangerous, as random acts of murder have gripped the cityfolk, all because they've been watching TV. This could have taken the route of Stephen King's similar novel Cell and have the afflicted essentially turn zombie, but there's always a nagging lucidity to them which offers more potential for tension. If there's a bit too much struggling and crawling about covered in blood by the end, well, it's always dfficult to wrap up an armageddon tale, but for what it was, The Signal had very little to be ashamed of. Music by Ben Lovett.