Lately, DVDs have been arriving in our mailbox from Netflix that neither Phillip nor I can remember putting on our queue. Apparently, we saw a preview, thought the movie looked interesting, put it on our queue, and then, over time, forgot about it. Then a mystery disc arrives in the mail. It’s kind of fun, actually.
This was the case with The Signal, which we watched last night. The disc sleeve said it was from 2014, and this was the synopsis:
During their drive across the country, college pals Nick and Jonah — accompanied by Nick’s girlfriend — run into major trouble in the Nevada desert. Duped into a setup by an evil-minded hacker, the trio soon become the demented techie’s prisoners.
That didn’t seem familiar to either of us. We agreed that it sounded bad. But we do enjoy the occasional bad movie, so we put it into our DVD player.
The Signal starts off as a road-trip movie. Jonah and Nick are taking Haley to a new college. Nick has some degenerative disease that requires him to use crutches for mobility. He’s afraid that as the disease worsens, and he ends up in a wheelchair, Haley will lose interest in him while she’s away at college, and break up with him. Haley see this as Nick’s cowardly way of breaking up with her. Poor Jonah is stuck in the middle of this fight between his two best friends.
Before the road trip began, Jonah and Nick were at MIT, and some hacker broke into their personal server and destroyed all of their files. Since then, they’ve been receiving taunting emails. Now, on the road with Haley, they’ve found the hacker’s IP address. They’ve traced the location of that IP address, and learn that the hacker is not too far out of their way to Haley’s college. Haley agrees to the detour.
Meanwhile, it seems that the hacker has found them. They receive a photo of their car, taken from a traffic camera.
None of this was familiar to either Phillip or me. We began making guesses as to what kind of movie we were in for – suspense, mystery, horror, or torture-porn.
The trio arrive at the hacker’s location in the pitch-black night. It’s a seemingly abandoned shack in the middle of the nowhere. Nick and Jonah lock Haley in the car while they go in to investigate. Jonah brings his camera with him.
At this point, the movie turns into a Blair Witch Project clone. A shaky, handheld movie camera shows us poorly lit scenes of a creepy old shack. Someone has been living there, but it looks like they moved out long ago. In the basement, Nick and Jonah find something out of place with the rest of the shack.
They hear Haley screaming outside. Nick and Jonah rush outside and find that all of the car’s doors are open. Haley is gone.
At this point, the movie turns into something very different and unexpected. I won’t tell you what it turns into. I won’t tell you the rest of the plot. I will tell you that the rest of the movie is not at all what the DVD sleeve told us.
I like to think that the synopsis on the DVD sleeve was a deliberate lie to avoid spoiling the plot twists.
The Signal is a terrific movie. I loved it. It was well made and well acted. Its many mysteries and twists kept me guessing all along. It’s a movie that, I’m sure, could stand up to repeat viewing. I learned, afterwards, from IMDb, that there were two “clues” hidden in plain sight within what appeared, on first viewing, to be superfluous scenes. I’m sure there are more.
I’ve often wished that I could have watched Psycho without knowing anything about the movie beforehand – to fully experience the shock of that mid-story genre change. I feel like I’ve now experienced that with The Signal.