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Director William Eubank clearly has big ideas and an impressive level of technical expertise; unfortunately, The Signal fritters them away on a poorly constructed story. Read critic reviews

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Movie Info

A surprise awaits three college students (Brenton Thwaites, Beau Knapp, Olivia Cooke) who think they have tracked a rival computer hacker to a shed in the Nevada desert.

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Critic Reviews for The Signal

All Critics (92) | Top Critics (36) | Fresh (56) | Rotten (36)

Audience Reviews for The Signal

  • Mar 19, 2021
    I was intrigued and confused when watching this film. The beginning drew me in. The acting was natural, and the characters were defined, but I wondered what the heck was going on. As I continued watching, I experienced more and more confusion, and dozens of questions were never answered. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD Nic and Jonah were hackers... I got that... and they were after NOMAD, another hacker... I got that. They took a split second to explain that NOMAD almost got them expelled. How? They never explained. Nic's relationship with Haley was hurt. Why? Because Nic thought his medical condition would worsen and hold her back? That's what he said, but was it an excuse? Is he angry with her moving, so he's being passive aggressive? We see from the first scene (Nic helping a little boy with a game) that Nic is genuinely a nice guy. So why is he distancing himself with Haley, hurting her badly? Why doesn't he explain himself rather than ignoring her for a month, then giving her a 2-second explanation? What disease does Nic have? Multiple sclerosis? Something else? Like everything in this movie, it's not explained. I guess "open-endedness" is supposed to be cool and artistic. I do appreciate movies that are open-ended, but this was too extreme for me, where I understood next to nothing, and as the film progress, so did my confusion. Even the camera work was confusing. The scene of Nic and Jonah in the deserted house looking for NOMAD was intriguing and held my interest, but the scenes were quick and hard to follow. Then Haley screams, and they rush outside to find her missing from the car, and then there's this bright light. What happened? I couldn't see. I pressed REWIND and had to view the scene a couple of times to see what was going on, but I couldn't make it out. Was it an explosion? Did someone clobber then over their head and their vision went white? Again (and again and again), I didn't know what was going on. Then the confusion got even worse. Was Dr. Damon trying to help them? Was was he so very cold and detached? Why wouldn't he answer any of Nic's questions? Why was Nic tatooed? Why was Dr. Damon giving Nic simple questions such as "what color is this?" I love films that make you think, but throughout this film, I kept asking "What?" and "Why?!?" and "Huh?!?" Then, the most confusing part... Dr. Damon shows Nic a film of Nic and Jonah in the house searching for NOMAD, then the film stops at a tree, and Nic is shocked. Why? Once again, I played back the scene. What was so shocking about the tree? Huh? What? Why did Dr. Damon tell Nic that Jonah was never in the facility? Why did Dr. D. keep Nic apart from Haley? Why did the staff pull Nic's hands away from Haley? What the heck was with the cow?!?!? Again, that was never explained. Why were there dark streaks on the wall? How did Nic's neck get cut so badly? After they break out, why are all the people in the barren dessert acting like mental zombies? If the alien experiments made them that way, why wasn't Nic and Jonah and Haley acting like mental zombies? (well, Haley kind of was). Why couldn't Jonah remove his gloves? What was going on with his hands? I, for the hundredth time, had to rewind the film and replay, but dialogue was mumbled and the scenes were too quick to see what was going on. If they gave Nic new legs, and Jonah new arms (which I finally figured out in the end when Jonah had super-powers and took out the metal post that kept their 4-wheeler truck from moving), why didn't they fix Jonah's eyes? Why the quick reference to Area 51? Were they in Area 51? Again, this was never explained or taken any further than just a quick reference or statement suggesting Area 51. There were hundreds of references that were never taken any further. If Damon's team worked so hard on these humans to make them super human with alien technology, why did they decide to kill them with a gun, after investing so much in them? And if they had such super alien technology, why use such archaic guns? This film just didn't make sense. Why did Jonah not die immediately after dozens of bullets pummeled his back? Haley is evacuated by helicopter -- is this by Dr. Damon's crew, or the outside world rescuing her? Guess we'll never know. They don't explain that either. And what in god's name did Nic break into in the end? It looks like he entered a computer game, like TRON. I was hoping he'd reach the real world, but I didn't know if the real world still existed. I thought maybe a nuke had destroyed the real world, but of course that wasn't explained. I think maybe Nic was never human, but was just a computer character in a game and finally realized his existence, but I'm not sure. Dr. Damon was either an alien to start with and made to look human, or he was human to start with, then altered with alien technology... who knows. I kind of hated this movie. I felt mostly confusion, frustration, with a tad bit of interest. I waited for answers that never came. The movie tried to show how artistic and primal it was, but it missed for me. If it slowed down a bit and showed the scenes more clearly, it might have gotten a better rating. As it was, the movie ended with a need for me to throw my shoe across the room.
    Amy A Super Reviewer
  • Aug 01, 2018
    uniquely compelling and entertaining
    Ed K Super Reviewer
  • Jul 23, 2018
    By it's very nature, science fiction is going to be unusual, confusing, and sometimes just plain weird. When it's done correctly, that can be a very good thing, but when it's not done the right way, audiences are left confused and annoyed. In 2014's The Signal, three friends are on a road trip, headed back to school for another semester of higher education. To their disbelief, a hacker who had been bothering them for months is still at it and is making things personal. Nic, Haley, and Jonah have some tricks of their own and ultimately track down the hackers address. To no ones surprise, it's on their way to school and they decide to pay them a visit. What should have been a fun moment, turned into something more sinister, when a deadly scream leads to darkness, and Nic (Brenton Thwaits) winds up in a quarantined hospital with no memory of what happened that night. I enjoyed the premise of this movie and as far as story goes, the idea wasn't all that terrible, what was terrible was the way in which it was presented. This buddy road trip film ends up in a hospital, where the friends are held for way too long. The hospital scenes are just strange, unexplained, and kill the movies momentum. Towards the end there are some better scenes, hinting that the film may be building up to an epic conclusion, but it's just more of the same, as things take an even stranger turn, and an anti-climatic one at that. As for the stars of the film, Laurence Fishburn gives yet another flat robotic performance. Morpheus was the perfect character for this guy, but he never seemed to be able to leave him behind, and now plays this same role in every film. On the other side, Brenton Thwaites, somewhat known for his breakout performance in The Giver, made this film for me. He was enigmatic, on target, and just fun to watch. I said it in my review of the Giver and I'll say it agin, this kid is going places. The Signal had all the ingredients for a great science fiction film, but when the cake was done it didn't taste so good. Most of the acting was flat, the story went off in too many different directions, and it was frequently anti-climatic.
    Todd S Super Reviewer
  • Jul 16, 2018
    I'm not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens. Aliens are a topic that has been used as part of films, seemingly, for millennia. Of course, film hasn't been around for millennia, so I'm exaggerating just a tad. The thing is though, for one reason or another, I've never been into aliens as a subgenre as much as I am into others. That's obviously not to suggest that I hate it, because if I see a good movie I'm gonna call it a good movie regardless what genre it might fit in. But, if I'm being honest, as far as thriller/horror films are concerned, aliens have never been that particularly interesting to me. Sci-fi, of course, is another thing entirely. Of course, there's movies like Alien and Aliens that are, clearly, exceptions to this role as both of those movies are fantastic for completely different reasons. Having said that, I don't know how one would actually classify this movie. It's certainly got some sci-fi elements and it's got some thriller elements, but I would not feel comfortable putting this in either of those categories. And, ultimately, I feel that's part of the reason why this movie failed. It doesn't know what it wants to be. I chose this at random. I wasn't sure what to watch and I had seen this on Netflix and, on an impulse, I decided to watch it. No trailer, no nothing. I feel like that was a mistake. The movie sees these MIT students (Nic, Jonah and Haley) on a road trip to help move Haley to California. Nic has some sort of degenerative disease that forces him to use forearm crutches in order to walk around. The film immediately starts on the wrong foot, because Nic and Jonah have been following this signal left behind by this hacker (Nomad) who hacked into MIT databases and nearly got them expelled. How this hacking nearly got them expelled, I have no clue. Nic and Haley's relationship has become a little strained as a result of Haley's move, it should be noted. Anyway, Nic and Jonah eventually trace the hacker's IP address to this abandoned shack. They explore this shack before hearing Haley's screams, she stayed behind in the car. The guys go out to try and find her and then then see Haley being pulled into the sky by some force. The two faint and we fade to black. When Nic wakes up, he finds himself in some sort of underground research facility. He is being questioned by this doctor Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne). Damon is wearing this protective suit. He begins to question Nic about what happened to him, as they believe he has come into contact with an extraterrestrial biological entity, as they refer to it. Basically, this part of the movie focuses on Nic trying to figure out what's wrong with him and finding away to escape with Haley once he sees her in a coma. Fast forward to a later point in the film, we find that Nic's legs have been removed and replaced with some sort of alien prosthetics. This is why his legs were numb even though, prior to contact with the alien, they were weak but still functional. Here's the thing about this movie, you're never once sure what you're watching at any time. It definitely does use non-traditional storytelling techniques. And I'm all for that. But I'm all for that if you have an interesting world and characters to work with, which this movie does not have. If I'm being honest, part of this feels like a sci-fi romance for the Twilight crowd. It's not, but that's just the way it comes across, due to Nic's dedication to Haley and getting her out and, ultimately, escaping this place for her. That's not an interesting story to me. Having said that, the movie is vague as all hell. There's nothing wrong with that if, again, there's something interesting about your movie. If you have intriguing characters exploring complex themes adeptly, you can be a little vague about certain things. This movie's attempts at being vague come across more like a desperate attempt to disguise the fact that, quite frankly, the script isn't really that good to begin with. And, in my opinion, being vague is a good way to hide that fact. Because it allows people to find a deeper meaning and context where there is none to be found and, to me, that's what this movie is. One of this movie's sections on its Wikipedia entry talks about its themes and this section has several paragraphs of the filmmaker and co-writer giving their explanation of what the film is supposed to represent. And, really, if you have to explain the meaning behind your film, you've probably failed, for starters. Though, to be fair, that's not always the case. It is the case here, however. Carlyle and William Eubank, brothers in real life, talk about how the film is about choosing love and emotion over logic and reason. Talking about this entire thing about how emotion, in an era of advanced science, would make emotions get in the way. They're talking all this pretentious shit that, quite frankly, I never once witnessed in the movie. The way these themes are explored are film school level basic. All I see was Nic and Jonah getting alien prosthetics for their legs and arms (that, comically, look more like Popeye's arms than anything badass) respectively and then using those to become some sort of super-powered being. That's all anyone will see out of this movie. They won't care one bit about the supposed deeper meaning here. How could anyone give a shit? The movie actively prevents you from investing in its story by, literally, not telling you shit about what's happening. I understand that there needs to be some kind of mystery involved regarding what's going on with Nic. But things keep happening in the movie that you don't connect with. It's like you're watching a commercial that you immediately forget five minutes later. That's how this movie's scenes play out, because there's no weight to them. Things happen because the script says that this is meant to happen, but there's no logic behind it. No reason for it. And, hey, ironically enough, I tied it back to the supposed themes the Eubanks pretended this film had. You know how some people talk without really ever saying anything. Well, this is the film equivalent of that. There's a bunch of shit thrown out there that, ultimately, ends up not mattering in the slightest. The twist is also incredibly easy to figure out. Though there's various layers of it, it's not just the one thing. I did like the ending itself, which is probably the only thing about the movie I did like. I wonder if this film's defenders use the 'nontraditional storytelling' as reasons for why I (or anyone else who disliked this movie) is wrong. You know who else uses nontraditional storytelling techniques? Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan, David Lynch, among many others. You know why these filmmakers succeeded at employing nontraditional storytelling techniques? Because they used it to craft clever stories that actually drew you into its world and characters. You knew that, in spite of it all, you'd be given a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, even if the chronology of said film might be out of order. This movie certainly has a beginning, a middle and an end, but it has nothing else. I wasn't intrigued in the slightest by what I was watching because I wasn't given a reason for WHY I was watching this. That's the difference. And, of course, even if I had been given the why, this movie's narrative is still poorly told. So, yea, I think that nips the 'nontraditional storytelling' defense for this movie in the bud. And, the sad thing is, that there's actually potential here. This could have been a legitimately interesting story. But it decided to use subterfuge in order to get to where it wanted. And that subterfuge, in its promotion, was used as a positive. No. Just no. The script wasn't any good and, again, the way to disguise that was through smoke and mirrors and (supposed) deeper meanings. Nope, this is as deep as a puddle when all is said and done. I was gonna give this two stars, but that's honestly too high. I liked very little about this. Lin Shaye is in this movie and she always makes anything she's in slightly better just by her presence, but she's not in this enough to make a real difference, sadly. Lin's appearance is great and the ending is pretty good, but there's nothing else about this movie that I liked. I feel like that makes a 1.5 rating far more fair. This is as if someone wanted to make a smart sci-fi romance for the Twilight audience and just failed miserably. This is just no good, whatsoever, and you'd be better served watching The Signal from 2007, which is an underrated horror flick. That movie is so good and this movie is, well, not.
    Jesse O Super Reviewer

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