ABATTOIR (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Horror Violence, and Language throughout

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman

Written by: Christopher Monfette

Starring: Dayton Callie, Jessica Lowndes, Joe Anderson, Lin Shaye & Jay Huguley

Darren Lynn Bousman has crafted an interesting career in horror filmmaking. He helmed three of the SAW films (including the best film in the entire series), directed a disappointing Jersey Devil movie, and has had a hand in three horror musicals so far. Though the quality of his filmography ranges all over the map, Bousman isn’t afraid to try new things and there’s something to be said for that. ABATTOIR is Bousman’s attempt to do a haunted house story and, in a weird twist of fate, he combines this genre with a pulpy noir execution. This film is far from perfect, but it’s an interesting creation that seems tailor-made for Halloween viewing.

Julia Talben (Jessica Lowndes) is a real-estate reporter who wants to cover the story of a lifetime. When her sister is brutally murdered and the scene of the crime is removed by a mysterious home owner, Julia finds herself in a wild news story beyond her imagination. Aided by her detective best friend Declan Grady (Joe Anderson), the pair’s search for answers leads them to the creepy small town of New English. Ooky spooky old man Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie) seems to be collecting murder rooms to construct the ultimate haunted house. Julia and Declan soon find themselves in a nightmarish web of mystery, buried secrets, and ghastly ghosts.

Though it may have strong influences of other ghost movies (the underrated remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and the not-so underrated THIR13EN GHOSTS remake), ABATTOIR sticks out as its own entity in the haunted house subgenre. Most of the reasons for this come from Christopher Monfette’s screenplay taking a purposely quirky noir approach to the material. There are lines of dialogue that sound like they belong in 40s/50s pulpy crime thrillers, yet they inspire chuckles and make this film entertaining the whole way through. It’s clear that Julia Talben and Declan Grady are colorful characters and the way that the performers deliver these lines comes off as believable enough.

This isn’t to say that Jessica Lowndes and Joe Anderson (who you might recognize from THE RUINS, THE CRAZIES remake, and HORNS) deliver flawless acting. Lowndes character seems a bit too eager to make stupid decisions, while Joe Anderson comes off like too much of an asshole at certain points of the story. Clearly, Bousman was trying to build a love connection between these two characters, but their would-be romantic relationship seems forced. I believed these two were friends, but I could not by them “loving” each other.

On the supporting side of things, Lin Shaye is clearly having a blast as yet another weird horror character. This time she’s playing the New English town “witch,” though I’d say that she’s just playing her typecast self yet again. Dayton Callie is a mixed bag as the villainous Jebediah Crone. The film takes a while to give us a face-to-face between his baddie and the two protagonists. When we do get to see Callie’s Crone in his glory, he’s a scenery-chewing blast to behold. Though I never found him threatening, Callie’s presence is colorful and adds a memorable figure to the haunted house proceedings.

As I mentioned before, ABATTOIR reminds me of 1999’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THIR13EN GHOSTS. This mainly comes in the film’s stylishly spooky atmosphere and the look of the ghostly inhabitants. ABATTOIR was clearly an ambitious project from the get-go and had enough creativity behind it to warrant a comic book prequel (and a supposedly upcoming sequel titled DWELLING). However, this film’s reach occasionally exceeds its budgetary grasp. The ghosts look a little too cheesy at points and one more rendering through the special effects department couldn’t have hurt the production. That being said, I loved certain scenes and the look of the haunted house itself was awesome.

ABATTOIR’s final third unveils the main attraction: a massive haunted house that’s constructed from countless tragedies. However, we only get to see a few select rooms and this was most likely due to more financial constraints. As a result, scenes of characters wandering through this insane environment aren’t nearly as cool as they should be. I was able to predict a plot twist well in advance before it occurred as well, though that may have been intentional on Bousman’s part. ABATTOIR is an atmospheric combination of over-the-top horror and pulpy mystery noir. The film suffers from shaky (but fun to watch) acting and budgetary constraints that ultimately hurt the plot’s ambition. I’d love to see a remake of this film with millions of dollars behind it, but ABATTOIR is a fun little diversion while it lasts.

Grade: B-

TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Horror Violence throughout, Language and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Dave Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Paul Solet, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin & Neil Marshall

Written by: Dave Parker, Clint Sears, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin & Neil Marshall

Starring: Barry Bostwick, Lin Shaye, John Savage, Pat Healy, BooBoo Stewart, Grace Phipps, Alex Esso & Kristina Klebe

TALES OF HALLOWEEN is arguably the most ambitious horror film to hit VOD during this spooky season. This Halloween-themed anthology has eleven directors telling ten stories that take place over the course of one night. However, the only real connections between these tales are a radio announcer (Adrienne Barbeau) who occasionally pops in and small lines of dialogue uttered by certain characters. So, an actual flowing wraparound between these segments is virtually nonexistent, but this anthology does give us an excuse to watch ten short films all centered around the scariest holiday of the year. It’s definitely no TRICK ‘R TREAT, but TALES OF HALLOWEEN is a fun flick that’s perfect for this time of year. As with every anthology that I review, I will focus on each short individually before ranking the film as a whole…

1. Sweet Tooth

SWEET TOOTH: Dave Parker (THE HILLS RUN RED) directs and writes this story about a kid who discovers a local urban legend of a candy-eating monster. Seeing that this is a horror anthology, you have a good idea as to whether or not the monster is real. This segment has some creativity to it and a nice set-up, but doesn’t fully come to a satisfying ending. You know where everything is going as soon as it starts and there was room for this short to go a little darker in its finale. B-

2. Night Billy Raised Hell

THE NIGHT BILLY RAISED HELL: Darren Lynn Bousman’s contribution to this film is the first solid segment. This one follows a little boy who finds himself committing horrible “pranks” on Halloween under the guidance of a creepy old man. This segment is definitely more comedic than I was expecting, but I quickly warmed up to its dark sense of humor and cheesy sound effects. Also, the ending was a nice touch! B+

TRICK: A group of adults find themselves terrorized by some particularly violent trick-or-treaters. This segment had a lot of potential, especially seeing how one legitimately shocking moment occurs near the beginning. It quickly turns into a simple cat-and-mouse game that, while effective and to the point, doesn’t pack nearly enough of a punch as it should have. B

4. Weak and Wicked

THE WEAK AND THE WICKED: Paul Solet (who previously penned 2009’s brilliantly bloody GRACE) sadly underwhelms with this fourth segment. The story revolves around some violent bullies who find themselves confronted by a would-be vigilante. Though the effects are cool during the final minutes, the story is pretty silly and never really had me engaged. You’ve seen this sort of short film before and I’d guess that you’ve seen it in many different ways. C

5. Grim Grinning Ghost

GRIM GRINNING GHOST: Director/writer Axelle Carolyn makes up for Solet’s disappointing short with this highly effective and atmospheric one. A young woman hears a spooky ghost story at a Halloween party and soon finds herself on edge as she walks home through dark, fog-laden streets. It’s not exactly hard to guess where this short will eventually end up, but I really enjoyed the whole execution of it. This segment actually got two solid jumps out of me with its scares and playfully thwarted potentially cheap moments. Though it’s not exactly original, this short is extremely well-done and scary nonetheless. A-

6. Ding Dong

DING DONG: Lucky McKee is one of the most well-known directors of this anthology (with MAY and THE WOMAN in his filmography) and that’s why this sixth segment is so very disappointing. The plot revolves around an odd couple and I don’t really want to say more for fear of spoiling some of the few redeeming factors. Pollyanna McIntosh was brilliant in THE WOMAN and I just don’t know what the hell she’s doing here. Meanwhile, Marc Senter (who’s been fantastic in THE LOST and RED, WHITE & BLUE) makes the most of the material he’s given. There’s definitely an interesting idea at the center of this short, but the execution feels cheap and far from fully developed. C-

7. This Means War

THIS MEANS WAR: The best short of this entire anthology belongs to Andrew Kasch and John Skipp! Combining a great sense of humor with horror, this story focuses on an erupting battle between two neighbors with very different tastes in Halloween decorations. The segment plays out like a really nasty piece of dark comedy and I absolutely loved it. It also helps that production values are rock solid (that’s true of the next two shorts as well) and it’s all very fast-paced. Though I guessed the ending before it actually happened, that didn’t make it any less satisfying. This is easily my favorite segment of this anthology! A

8. Friday the 31st

FRIDAY THE 31ST: The award for most bizarre entry in this anthology goes to Mike Mendez (director of the appropriately titled BIG ASS SPIDER!). This segment starts out as a slasher-esque bit that turns into something else entirely. I won’t say what because a lot of the fun comes from the goofy “what the hell am I watching?!?” tone in this segment. I haven’t seen any of Mendez’s other work, but this short strikes me as the work of someone who could potentially become the next Sam Raimi. In other words, this short is cheesy, goofy and a friggin’ blast! B+

THE RANSOM OF RUSTY REX: This segment stands out as my second favorite of the film. Two kidnappers find their plan falling apart after one horrible mistake. That’s all I’ll say, because this segment is really fun to watch. An over-the-top sense of humor is combined with creepy horror, but this story leans slightly more on the scary side than THIS MEANS WAR did. The two performances of the leads as well as one well-placed cameo and some stellar make-up effects make this into the second-best of these ten shorts. Also, I would easily watch a feature-length horror-comedy centered around this premise. A

10. Bad Seed

BAD SEED: Neill Marshall has brought us enjoyable flicks in the past, such as THE DESCENT, DOOMSDAY, and CENTURION. Now, he brings us a short about a killer pumpkin. That’s right. A cop is investigating a killer pumpkin on Halloween night and we see this occur for about 10 minutes. Think of this short as a Halloween-centered version of ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES…but with pumpkins. I really wanted to enjoy this short and there were a couple of goofy moments that worked. However, I felt that this segment was a weak way to close out the film, especially given how it ends. At least, the always enjoyable Pat Healy shows up for a few minutes. C+

11. Overall

TALES is the second horror anthology to come out this year that’s based around a holiday and features a radio host as the main connection between the stories (the first is A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY). Like that other holiday anthology, TALES OF HALLOWEEN has a mixed bag of segments. There are bad ones (Lucky McKee’s and Paul Solet’s), so-so ones (Neil Marshall’s and Dave Parker’s) as well as some good ones (Mike Mendez’s and Darren Lynn Bousman’s) and fantastic ones (Ryan Schifrin’s, Andrew Kasch’s and John Skipp’s). The good far outweighs the bad though! If you’re looking for a fun anthology that’s perfect for this time of year, then TALES OF HALLOWEEN won’t disappoint.

Grade: B

2001 MANIACS (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Horror Violence and Gruesome Images, Sexuality/Nudity and Language

2001Maniacs poster

Directed by: Tim Sullivan

Written by: Tim Sullivan & Chris Kobin

Starring: Robert Englund, Lin Shaye, Giuseppe Andrews, Jay Gillespie, Matthew Carey, Peter Stormare, Marla Malcolm, Gina Marie Heekin, Brian Gross & Mushond Lee

2001 MANIACS is one of those rare horror remakes that is miles better than the original. Based on Herschell Gordon Lewis’s TWO THOUSAND MANIACS!, Tim Sullivan’s remake is a much more tongue-in-cheek effort that ultimately comes off as a hilariously un-PC horror-comedy. Driven by a constant combination of horror and humor, 2001 MANIACS has so much to like within its fast-paced 87 minutes. This should be taken precisely as the kind of film it was intended to be: a silly slasher flick with lots of laughs and gallons of gore.

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Anderson Lee and his two best friends have taken to the road for Spring Break. On the way to Daytona Beach, the trio of hapless frat guys take a wrong turn. Instead of leading them to a beach filled with babes, this misguided detour has landed the group in the old-fashioned Pleasant Valley. It seems that the boys have arrived just in time for a big celebration. However, they aren’t the only guests of honor, because two more guys and three gals arrive shortly after. Taking the extremely old-fashioned Southern charm and friendly townsfolk as a good sign, the group of “guests” decide to stick around for the Guts and Glory Jubilee. After all, there’s a delicious barbecue at the end of the festival. What our “guests” don’t know is that they are the menu!

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2001 MANIACS knows exactly what it wants to be. This is a deliberately over-the-top horror-comedy that’s full of un-PC humor and cheesy gore. The former is definitely the driving force of what makes this slasher work so well. Throughout the years, we’ve seen so many dull and dreary slasher films that hit the same clichés and don’t have the decency to have fun with them. 2001 MANIACS utilizes a lot of the crazy situations that might be brought on by a group of modern college kids running headlong into old-school Confederate cannibals. What’s especially funny is that director/co-writer Tim Sullivan includes three people who the Confederates would have hated from the get-go. We get a black biker, his Asian girlfriend, and a gay guy thrown into the pool of victims. The interactions between the town full of insane Southerners and these three particular characters are hysterical to watch. The Mayor’s reaction to finding out that his son may be attracted to the gay guy is especially hilarious. It sounds like 2001 MANIACS might be offensive from that description, but it should be made clear that Tim Sullivan is exploiting every redneck joke he gets an opportunity to. From kissing cousins and bestiality to jokes about racial tensions and sex, nobody is safe from the crude and very funny comedic jabs.

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However, the laughs only make up half the film as the gore is especially glorious. Using mostly practical effects, 2001 MANIACS certainly doesn’t skimp on the blood or creative kills. Part of the fun is to guess how each character will meet their untimely demise. A couple of pieces of foreshadowing come back in a big way. We get severed limbs, popped out eyeballs, impalements, and many other acts of wanton violence. None of it is meant to be taken seriously at all as each death is accompanied by a few bad puns. The protagonists/victims are nothing to write home about. These are your average slasher stereotypes. There’s the jock, the black guy (who doesn’t meet the typical dying-first cliché), the nerd, the slut, the horn-dog, the gay guy, the final girl, etc. These characters were here to die and served their purpose well. The antagonists are quite a different story. These Confederate cannibals are colorful individuals and each seem to have an identity (as brief as their screen time might be). Robert Englund is especially enjoyable as the sinister Mayor Buckman.

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2001 MANIACS might not be the greatest horror-comedy or slasher ever, but it’s a gory blast of fun from beginning to end. The story is silly and the protagonists are stupid, but these factors lend to the enjoyment. Tim Sullivan crafted both a remake that’s far superior to its source material and a wholly enjoyable horror-comedy. This is the kind of film that knows exactly what it wants to be. Everyone seems to have had fun making it and that radiates off the screen. If you’re in the mood for a crazy, gory and stupid good time, then 2001 MANIACS is probably right up your alley.

Grade: B

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Frightening Images, some Language and Thematic Elements

Insidious3 poster

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Lin Shaye & Ashton Moio

I consider 2011’s INSIDIOUS to be the modern-day POLTERGEIST (in spite of that needless remake that’s in theaters right now). I remember when I first saw INSIDIOUS on opening night in April 2011. The theater was packed. The audience was reacting extremely well to every scare and spooky detail. The film worked flawlessly for me and I’ve revisited it many times since. In 2013, we received INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2. Though it had a few original ideas, the film was a lesser retread through familiar territory. Wisely, Leigh Whannell (once again writing this installment, but also directing this time around) has made the newest CHAPTER into a prequel. The end result is made of far better quality than most third installments of successful horror franchises. CHAPTER 3 doesn’t simply play the same tune, even if it hits familiar notes. Though it has problems in one of the subplots, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 should satisfy fans of the first two films.

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The story takes place “a few years” before the events of the first INISIDIOUS. Quinn Brenner is a teenage girl who has recently lost her mother to cancer. Desperate to contact her dead mom, Quinn goes to former psychic Elise. When Elise isn’t able to contact Quinn’s deceased parent, the elderly woman warns the naïve teenager against trying to contact the dead. Her reasoning is that when you call out to one of them, all of them can hear you. Quinn stupidly ignores Elise’s warning and winds up making friends with a sinister presence that begins feeding off of her life. Elise must struggle with reentering the profession that she gave up so long ago in order to save Quinn’s life and time is running short.

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One thing right of the gate that I appreciate about CHAPTER 3 is that it doesn’t play up the Darth Maul-looking demon from the first film or the creepy ghost woman from the second. Instead, we get an entirely new threat that’s sucking the life of its victim in a pretty creepy way. This is essentially another child-in-peril story, but the child happens to be a teenager and the peril is something that we haven’t seen before in this universe. Though Quinn is a dumb character who makes the stupid clichéd horror movie mistakes, young Stefanie Scott makes her into a sympathetic character. Dermot Mulroney is off-and-on as Quinn’s father. Sometimes, he plays up the whole “I’m an old person and don’t understand your kid’s newfangled blogs and such” shtick a bit too much. Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell are back as the obligatory comic relief paranormal researchers and just as entertaining as ever.

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Unfortunately for us, Quinn’s life being threatened by the supernatural presence only makes up half of the running time. The rest of the film is dedicated to Lin Shaye’s Elise having a midlife crisis. Her scenes are when this movie gets tedious. Imagine if 1982’s POLTERGEIST only focused on the haunted family for half of the running time and the other half was dedicated to psychic Tangina getting in touch with her inner self to rescue Carol-Anne from the other side. Tobe Hooper’s classic haunted house story wouldn’t be nearly as frightening, creative or interesting if that were the case. That’s precisely the biggest problem with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3. Other than giving Lin Shaye’s side character way too much screen time, this subplot also serves to hammer in needless connections to the first two films (including a cameo that made a few people in the theater laugh). When this subplot eventually melds together with Quinn’s storyline, the climax isn’t fully satisfying as things nearly go into TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL level of cheesiness.

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Seeing as this is an INSIDIOUS movie, we do get our obligatory trip into the Further. This provides the best imagery in the whole damn film, including a couple of scares that legitimately got me. However, I couldn’t help but notice that CHAPTER 3 relies too much on loud noises. I found myself tensing up more at the prospect of nearly going deaf than at any of the freaky pop-outs that a scene might hold. Whannell phones in most of these scares with the same damn technique and obvious “Boo!” moments are telegraphed from a mile away. Herein lies the problem with these INSIDIOUS sequels. The first INSIDIOUS perfectly balanced loud freak-outs with quietly terrifying moments. If you’ll recall the last shot of that film is someone gasping and it’s one of the scariest horror film endings that I’ve ever scene. That quiet gasp did far more than any scream or loud pitch of violins. This film has a horrifying shot near the end that could have sent the theater goers out with shivers down their spines as opposed to blasting them out of their seats for one last cheap jolt. Instead, Whannell goes for the latter and shows just how predictable this series has become.

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 is far better than it has any right to be. I really dug that Whannell was taking the material in a new direction and telling what seemed to be a crazy standalone story in the INSIDIOUS universe. However, he kind of botches that by spending way too much time on a less interesting subplot and using cheap scares as opposed to letting mood or atmosphere sink in. This is definitely better than most third installments of blockbuster horror series, but it’s also a definite downgrade from the first (and even the second) movie. All that being said, CHAPTER 3 is likely to please less-discerning fans of the series. I just hope they keep this as the okay closure to a pretty enjoyable horror trilogy, instead of blowing it out of proportion with four more sequels.

Grade: C+

THE SIGNAL (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Thematic Elements, Violence and Language

Signal poster

Directed by: William Eubank

Written by: Carlyle Eubank, David Frigerio & William Eubank

Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Lin Shaye & Sarah Clarke

I don’t usually start of a review with a crass statement right out of the gate, but the gloves are off on THE SIGNAL. Cool visuals mean nothing if a storyline is incoherent dogshit. That’s simply the case with this derivative, incoherent mess of a movie. Some of the effects are indeed professional looking. The movie stands out in a small stretch when it appears to be taking a thought-provoking minimalist less-is-more creepy approach. The film doesn’t focus on these ideas for too long though. Everything overloads into a frustrating experience that cares more about showing off what director William Eubank can do with a camera and less on telling a cohesive narrative to pack all of this junk into. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. In no other movie is this more clear than THE SIGNAL.

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Nic, Haley, and Jonah are three hackers traveling across the country. Upon receiving mysterious messages from a rival hacker (who had given them some trouble in the past), the trio takes a detour to confront the seemingly brilliant computer whiz with the gifted ability of hacking into any computer or camera around. Unfortunately, they’ve just walked headfirst into a nightmare as they run into a mysterious force. Upon waking up from this encounter, the three find themselves confined in a facility populated by scientists in biohazard suits. I won’t go any farther, because some people will still venture into this film, in spite of my dire warning. Even if I wanted to deconstruct the plot properly that is practically impossible due to the sheer convoluted nature that works up to a semi-predictable final revelation that felt like a giant middle finger to the audience.

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THE SIGNAL tries to be philosophical and deep. The end result winds up being a pretentious jumbled storyline. It has an aura of someone throwing random scenes in front of the camera, yelling “Look what I can do!” This is the kind of science-fiction mess that there isn’t a single excuse for. This is one crap-fest of a movie. It’s hard to maintain a dignified tone in this review, because this movie frankly pissed me off. I haven’t been this angry in paying to see a bad movie in theaters since I saw BRANDED back in 2012. Words can barely do justice to how infuriating THE SIGNAL is. This film reeks of someone playing around with some effects on camera and then peddling it to the masses.

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Some effects do admittedly look cool and others feel very cheap. There’s a severe overuse of slow motion. This is especially demonstrated in a laughably bad out-of-place action sequence. None of the characters are worth caring about either. Brenton Thwaites and Olivia Cooke can be good in the right roles, but there’s nothing here but bland cardboard cut-outs that resemble silhouettes of people. Lin Shaye shows up in a brief would-be eerie role that comes off as more of a wacky cartoon character (she generated plenty of laughs in my theater). Laurence Fishburne is a wooden scientist donning a biohazard suit. There’s also one moment regarding his character that strongly reminded me of TROLL 2 (something that should never happen in any movie hitting the big screen). In place of character development, the viewer is given quick montages of flashbacks involving Thwaites, Cooke, and Knapp that are inserted at the most inopportune times. A few of these came in during action montages or would-be crucial scenes. The resulting effect also generated some unintentional laughs among the audience in my theater.

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An overly familiar ending echoes notable science fiction films from the late-90’s. To give specifics would most definitely be going into heavy spoiler territory, but it’s safe to say that you’ve probably seen this kind of ending in far better movies before this steaming pile came along. The conclusion renders some scenes entirely pointless, which makes one wonder why they even bothered to include them to begin with. It’s messy film with some pretty effects supporting by wooden acting and a lame script. THE SIGNAL comes off as bad any way you slice it.

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Some posters for THE SIGNAL state “R U Agitated?” This message is also seen a few times in the beginning of the film and ultimately serves as a horrific bit of foreshadowing for the despair the viewer is plunged into. The emotional pain isn’t brought on by watching a trippy movie with bleak messages or viewing good characters go through horrible things. It comes from the devastation of realizing that you plopped down hard-earned money to sit through this film and that you’ll never get your valuable time back. I originally had an opportunity to see THE SIGNAL at Sundance and after seeing the huge release it was getting, I was kicking myself for skipping out on it. I’m glad I didn’t see it at the festival. Had I seen this flick at Sundance and waited in the cold for a solid hour to get into the theater, then I would have probably been even angrier. As it stands, seeing it as a matinee, the word “agitated” doesn’t even begin to cover the disdain I feel for this complete and utter failure of a film. Avoid this SIGNAL as it will do far more than just leave you agitated…

Grade: F

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