The Signal — Review and Interview

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signal Director Will EubankNewcomer Will Eubank combined genres with this little picture. It’s a bit of a road trip, a bit of a love story, with a dash of haunted house horror, before settling in on a sci-fi flick with a Twilight Zone/X-Files vibe. It blends genres well enough, but is never a great, cohesive film. It’s never boring, though.

Nic (Brenton Thwaites) seems to be developing MS and his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) is heading off to another state for a year. He feels a pre-emptive break-up might be in order. They’re driving across country with their college friend Jonah (Beau Knapp). These are smart MIT students that are being agitated by a hacker calling himself Nomad. It’s implied that Nomad has messed up a few things they’ve been working on, and it’s causing some problems at MIT. They track Nomads location, but can’t figure out why Nomad seems to have photos and videos of their location all along the way.

They show up at a dilapidated house has that “haunted” vibe. There is that moment when you get to ask “Why would they go into a dark basement?” We get a few screams, and the guys wake up in a hospital of some kind. Nic (and the audience) are left trying to figure out what is going on.

Laurence Fishburne plays a character that could be a doctor, scientist, or psychiatrist. You’re never really sure which, but he and his crew are wearing some heavy-duty hazmat gear. It’s clear he knows a lot more then he cares to reveal.

Nic sees Haley in a nearby room. She appears to be in a coma, but again…his questions go unanswered. All of this is slowly paced but so beautifully shot, you enjoy the ride. We clearly see that Eubank was a talented cinematographer, but…as a screenwriter, he could’ve used a rewrite. Some things are derivative, others mundane. A little more character development could’ve helped, too. It would be nice to care about these three people a bit more.

Yet you’ll find yourself thinking about this movie for weeks after you see it. That’s never a bad thing.

I can only give this movie 2 stars out of 5, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing this young cast in future films, and anxiously awaiting Eubanks next picture with a big studio and bigger budget. After this showing, he’ll surely get the offers.

Here’s my interview will writer/director William Eubank.


signal PHOTO


I have two things I want to say. First, thanks for giving us a movie that wasn’t boring. There’s nothing worse for critics than having to sit through a boring movie.

Will Eubank: Thanks.

JB: Now, I want to also say on behalf of critics everywhere…this is the worst type of movie to review! We can’t say anything without giving things away. And I’m somebody that gets mad when trailers show a scene that may give something away.

Eubank: Oh, I’m the same way. I love movie trailers. I watch them all, and I have a book about trailers. I was even a little bothered that they showed the scene with a character running through glass. I thought that gave something away, even though it was just a quick scene.

JB: No, that doesn’t give anything away. I haven’t seen your trailer, but…it is a smart move to get in there and edit them yourself so something like that doesn’t happen. Some filmmakers do that. Stanley Kubrick always edited his own trailers for many reasons.

Eubank: He had some great trailers.

JB: I’m a bit perplexed about something I’m going to say in the review of your movie. I’m going to say I wish there was more character development. Yet…if you had done more with the characters and given us more back-story…many critics might have complained about that. They’d say, ‘We don’t care about the love story…just get to the creepy hospital already!’ Yet your movie is like a Twilight Zone episode. We all loved Twilight Zone and in those episodes…we’d see a guy in a suit, in a small town, and the phones didn’t work. People in the diner looked really weird and wouldn’t talk to the guy. We didn’t need to know who the guy was or what he did for a living. We just enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on.

Eubank:  Exactly! I wanted you to feel all this from their perspective. Weird things are happening. You want to figure out what is going on. Those people I had in the diners and some of the locals we got…we certainly wanted it to look a certain way. We had Lin Shaye, and you’re trying to figure out what she’s all about.

JB: I loved seeing her in this! Obviously, casting Laurence Fishburne is great. He has the perfect look for the part he plays. At times his voice is soothing and has a calming effect. Other times he seems devious. But it’s small characters like the one Shaye plays that are more fun for me. To see the crazy lady from There’s Something About Mary, as a weird Jesus freak that picks these guys up. How did you get her in the movie? Are you actually involved in the casting?

Eubank: We got lucky. Somebody on our movie had worked with her in Insidious. We sent her the script and she liked it.

JB: I always think with smaller movies, studios would hate trying to get actors that might cost more – when you can just get a weird looking local a lot cheaper. Yet when the Coen brothers or Alexander Payne do a movie, having those actors we love in small roles is just perfect.

Eubank: Well, they don’t do small movies. Those are bigger pictures.

JB: I’m talking about earlier in their careers, before Sideways and Fargo and all those films became such hits.

Eubank: Yeah, yeah. Like Blood Simple. That’s one of my favorites. Yeah, I like that, too. With Lin Shaye there are these weird quirks with the character and we want people to wonder about her. It’s like the movie Prisoners. Jake Gyllenhaal has this tattoo on his neck, he twitches a little bit. You wonder about him and…we don’t know his back story.

JB: That’s a good point. Those things are interesting. We figure he has OCD and had some kind of hard life, and it’s fun that the filmmakers didn’t feel the need to spell it all out for us. Perhaps we didn’t need to know more about your three characters.

Will it bother you if people compare this to other movies? It reminded me of Dark City. Did you see that?

Eubank: Yeah, I loved it. It won’t bother me. We all have our influences and things we liked. We did try to throw some things in the movie…a lot of tropes. We had the black and white cow, from the Gary Larson comic.

JB: You had one scene that I was curious about. A guy in the hospital screams after Nic falls out of the hospital bed and they’re face-to-face. Why would he have been so scared? Were you trying to throw us in other directions, or…

Eubank: I remember the scene you’re talking about [laughs]. We originally had a few different people try it. We had some of these locals that looked like they were from a biker gang, with all this facial hair. They would scream and it would be a bit much. We finally settled on that guy.

JB: That reminds me of a story Bonnie Hunt (Jerry Maguire) told on Letterman. He was producing a TV show she had, but she talked about some of her early film roles. She was the waitress in Rain Man that is supposed to be surprised when Dustin Hoffman rattles off her address, all from seeing the name ‘Sally Dibbs’ on her nametag. She rehearsed and rehearsed those lines, and when it came time to do it, she screamed bloody murder. Barry Levinson (director) had to yell, ‘Cut!’ He was furious that she went so over-the-top with what was supposed to be mild surprise. She was convinced she’d never work in Hollywood again. Anyway…I just wondered why that doctor would be so scared of him.

Eubank: It could’ve been for a few different reasons.

[Eubank goes into more detail about the possibilities of why this person might be frightened, but it would spoil things to write them here]

JB: When we were talking about movies earlier, I was surprised at how much you know about the history of film. The first day you met with Laurence Fishburne, did you ask him all these questions about movies like Matrix,Mystic River, or Apocalypse Now? Or did you have to keep it professional?

Eubank: Oh yeah. I loved Apocalpyse Now! I had to ask him about that.

JB: He was 15-years-old when he did that?

Eubank: I think he was 14. But yeah, I totally nerded-out. I had to get it all out of the way before filming. I got the blu-rays out and was watching them. An editor that worked on the movie told me about a film he did called Cherry 2000. I mentioned that to him. He got a kick out of that.

JB: Is it easier or harder working with your brother? I can imagine that in some instances, it’s the perfect writing partner. Other times, it would be like the band Oasis – with fist-fights.

Eubank: He’s great to write with. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have the ceremonially throwing of the fruit. Seriously though, we grew up together and we love a lot of the same things. We both liked those creepy diner scenes and things like that.

JB: They had such a Twilight Zone vibe – the weird locals that either ignore you, or stare at you.

Eubank: We would go on these motor home trips as kids and see things like that. There were such weird characters, and it’s always people like that that claim to have been abducted by aliens. Have you ever noticed that?

JB: The movie had a good look for being a smaller budget. What did you spend? I’m guessing a few million.

Eubank: It was approximately $4 million. When we got interest in the script, we were told we could do it right away for about $4 million. They’d be able to get the money together right away, but if we wanted to make it for $15 million, that might take awhile. We opted for starting right away with $4 million to start. That meant we had to look at costs…like how much it would be to get one helicopter. We had to think about the places where we wanted the money to go. That meant that some action scenes are shot in slow motion for a bit more emotional power. I stole a few of the techniques I used from anime.They do a lot of stuff like that. You need a lot of money to shoot real action scenes.

JB: I usually complain when movies have a title that’s the name of a character. Yet with this, I thought the movie should’ve been called “Nomad” instead of “The Signal.” Was that ever considered?

Eubank: No. There were times people kept saying ‘You should just call it ‘Signal’.’ But I thought…no, no. Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t do that. He called it ‘The Shining’ not ‘Shining.’

JB: Well, he didn’t have a choice, since Stephen King had called the book that, but…I do see what you mean.

Since I’m not a photographer, if there’s a scene that’s visually pleasing in a film, I’m always impressed. You had a number of them in this. The scenes that show Nic running, and all the trees around him. When the camera panned back during the break-up scene, and we see the bridge. As somebody that started with a camera, how important is that to you?

Eubank: Thanks for saying that. Yeah, I think visuals are real important. Nobody says they’re going to hear a movie, or listen to a movie. They say they’re going to ‘see’ a movie. It’s an important part of the process. People used to say ‘Hey, you’re the guy that filmed all those fake commercials.’ I just did those because I needed something for my reel.

JB: Since you did the movie Love, I have to ask you about Tom DeLong (blink-182, Angels & Airwaves), since he’s from here in Poway.

Eubank: Yeah! I just talked to him this morning.

JB: How was it working with him?

Eubank: He’s great. When we met, he was so supportive of my work. When he hired me, he gave me freedom to explore on that. It was my first film. It laid the foundation. When you’re a cinematographer, you often get awesome stuff but you see it strangled to death by other people. He was just so nurturing. We had a vision for what direction it would go, and it was a unique opportunity. I’ve got some fan mail, actual paper, that people sent through the mail. Some have tattooed it on themselves. It’s just amazing. I’m so thankful for that opportunity.

JB: Well, you’re going to have a lot more opportunities come your way after studios see this movie. Good luck in the future. I’ll be looking forward to your next film.

Eubank: Thank you.

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