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[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

June 17, 2008
RATING: 8/10
Horror films follow several predictable trends, one of them being that each original, often brilliant, idea begets a slew of copycat films of diminishing quality. Thus the premises of Night of the Living Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, two independently created masterpieces in the genre, were morphed over time, with Hollywood's help, into shitfests like House of the Dead and Saw III. The real scares of the original films are subsequently watered down, replaced with over the top gore and plot twists that would make a 3rd grader groan with boredom. Right now the Asian horror remake trend is dying off and being quickly replaced with a subgenre of the revitalized zombie theme - the "mass hysteria" film. In this niche actors can play the part of zombies, mauling and killing those around them, but unlike the originals it is impossible to distinguish who is panicking and who is sane from a safe distance. Another facet of the genre's theatrical evolution is that the crazies can run, deliver dialog and use all kinds of horrible weapons and tools. These are smart and healthy zombies. These are friends and neighbors, co-workers and spouses; each of them more crazed, inconsolable and homicidal than the last. Given that there are already several other "mass hysteria" flicks in the can (see: The Happening) and several more greenlighted (see: Cell and Hater), audiences are about to be exposed to a lot of depraved, chaotic bloodlust. In fact, M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening just opened, and reviews of the film have been mediocre at best. Fortunately for all you horror junkies out there, last week also saw the DVD release of Magnolia Pictures', The Signal, a film that, for fans of zombies, action and horror, is easily one of the best films in recent memory.



The Signal takes place in the fictional city of Terminus (the crew shot entirely in Atlanta). As the film opens, a couple lying in bed together is awakened as the television turns itself on and begins displaying shifting, distorted images at a breakneck pace. The TV is also emanating a squealing sound that seems to sync with the images. Unbeknownst to the pair, anyone exposed to the images or sounds for any prolonged period of time devolves into a homicidal maniac with schizophrenic hallucinations. The couple, who are having an affair, quickly discern that both mobile and land-based phones are also producing the strange squealing sound; in fact, every form of electronic communication broadcasts the strange signal. There is no way to get news, no way to reach anyone beyond a radius of simple visual or audible signals. Even though Terminus is a massive city, the lack of communication serves to pepper each scene with the same kind of isolated claustrophobia as a haunted house flick. Tensions run incredibly high in the first half hour of the film - almost too high. Fortunately, another one of The Signal's innovations is that the film has three directors, all of whom share a common dream but divvy the film's 100-minute runtime into three unique segments. Each segment tells a small story about the collapse of society that fits into the overall plot of the movie - how the couple survives the terror and escapes from the nightmare. Part one of The Signal details the initial outbreak of the chaos. Part two, however, provides some needed levity by introducing characters and creating a scenario that lends itself to bigger laughs (albeit gallows humor) in 20 minutes than most comedies have in two hours. Part three sends the film careening back into mayhem, but this time the film begins to mess with the audience's collective head. Not to give any spoilers but there are several ways to interpret the ending of The Signal.



The film, which was written and directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry, is in some ways a modern day update of David Cronenberg's classic, Shivers. Rather than Shivers' slobbering and zombified 1970s sex fiends, however, The Signal is populated with violent techno junkies, people so addicted to technology that they allow it to take control of their minds - the human/computer interface of videogames, but in reverse. It is also reminiscent of Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City, in which fast-moving zombies conquer Europe. In both films, there is a chilling feeling of hopelessness because the battle appears to be over even as it begins. These are movies about the apocalypse and the dawn of a new society based in chaos, hedonism and depravity. The Signal fits right alongside those classic horror films - low budget films of style and substance with a message to viewers about how bad things can get by collectively continuing down the wrong path.

As these "mass hysteria" movies begin to wear thin and plots about psychotic brains, scrambled by increasingly ridiculous things, become more common, an epidemic will begin to take place. A kind of critical contagion spreads each time a genre begins to wear thin, as people take stock of what they've just seen and compare it to a classic in the same genre. It always starts with something like this: "(insert formulaic action movie here) was not nearly as good as Die Hard" or "(insert formulaic fantasy movie here) was not nearly as good as Lord of the Rings." It is almost assured that the few people lucky enough to have seen The Signal were walking out of theaters this past weekend saying: "You know, The Happening was not nearly as good as The Signal," and they'd certainly be right about that.

TRAILER: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xJgvhxixeg

SEE ALSO: www.doyouhavethecrazy.com

--
Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LASís editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other articles by Jon Burke.

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