The spirit of a murdered girl returns with a message for the staff of a local radio station.
June 2, 2017
Dark Signal is a forthcoming horror film from executive producer Neil Marshall (director of Dog Soldiers and The Descent) and writer/director Ed Evers-Swindell. It vaguely reminds me of the Michael Keaton thriller which also relied on EVP as its central conceit — White Noise.
Production values are lovely. Beautiful locations. But a disjointed story and a case of “I don’t know where to look” as far as lead characters – makes for a bit of a problem.
A savage murderer – known as “The Wedlock Killer” has been terrorizing the English countryside. His signature move is to remove the victim’s (all victims are female) wedding ring finger. Two women will become involved in this mystery. Kate (Joanna Ignaczewska) is a single mother trying to make ends meet. She goes on a little robbery/caper with her boyfriend Nick (Duncan Pow), and it turns out that the house he’s targeting is the home of The Wedlock Killer’s latest victim. Since Kate is in charge of the getaway car, she remains parked in the dark woods. Before long, she starts seeing a strange apparition. At the same time, shock radio host Laurie Wolf (Siwan Morris) is having her sign-off broadcast. In the studio are her producer/techie Ben (Gareth David-Lloyd) and her final on-air guest – psychic Carla (Cinzia Monreale). As a non-believer, Laurie allows Carla to perform her rituals over the air, but not without plenty of nasty sass. But as Kate becomes more and more frightened by what she sees on that desolate road, the folks in the radio station begin to pick up strange and pained voices from the other side – through the radio waves. Eventually, both stories will merge and questions will be answered.
If this all sounds disjointed, that’s because it is. And that back and forth is easily the biggest issue in the film. And yes, it’s a biggie indeed. We don’t have a central character. With two leading ladies, both of which are given backgrounds in an attempt to gain some sympathy, this piece is a solid reminder that having two lead characters simply doesn’t work.
I felt as though I was being whipped about between Laurie and Kate and that’s not something which I’ll stand for. The filmmakers have a job to do, and that’s to take their audience on a journey (I’ve said it time and time again). What’s frustrating to me, is that so many films can’t even draw up enough sympathy and make an audience care for one main character, let alone two. This was a poor choice on the part of the writers. This back and forth is necessary to achieve the plot twists and turns inherent in the story, but it does no favors when trying to get audience members on board.
And on that note of sympathy, if Laurie were our only entry into the film, she’d be a hard sell. The history for Laurie in the film certainly provides enough oomph for her to be as unpleasant as she is throughout, but there comes a point where some softening will be necessary. Eventually, we do see a break in her gruff exterior; exposing her softer side, but it’s not enough and it’s too late. With Laurie’s constant berating of Carla the psychic, her eye-rolling and overall unpleasant demeanor – you’ll find yourself just wishing she’d get it. I don’t like you, Laurie. And for the filmmakers, that’s a problem.
That’s not to say that the performances are poor. Both Ignaczewska and Morris are decent actors and are given plenty of opportunities to emote – both with wide eyes that are unable to hide anything their characters are feeling. But I’d have to give a leg up to Ignaczewska’s performance, since her character is required to experience far more physical and emotional danger. As I said above, Morris’ Laurie sits around pouting most of the time, but when contact is made with the other side, she’s given the chance to up her acting game.
I was pleased as punch to see James Cosmo in a supporting role here. He’s recognizable for his work in Braveheart and Trainspotting. But for me, his excellent work in Estranged (which I reviewed at Screamfest two seasons ago) should be his ultimate calling card. Sadly, he felt wasted in the role – providing nothing more than a creepy old man – used in an attempt to misdirect the audience. It’s thankless, but Cosmo does a terrific job.
Strangely, there’s an homage in the film to Ripley’s gun/flamethrower prep in the dropship and subsequently, the elevator shaft to the alien hive in Cameron’s Aliens. It felt pretty obvious to me, as to where they found inspiration for this scene. The problem is, such bad-assery from Kate seemingly comes from out of nowhere. She’s a regular mom, trying to make ends meet. But her constant whininess early on the script, doesn’t provide any build-up to her suddenly turning into some Ripley-esque character for the climax. Sure, you could write off that she’s in survival mode – seething with adrenaline – but that’s pretty flimsy.
Make-up effects are good, and the image of The Wedlock Killer’s victim (who is the disembodied voice at the radio station) is gnarly – but not terribly original. Take a look at any number of Asian horror films and the disheveled, long-haired brunette female ghost within – and you’ll be prepared for the apparition in Dark Signal.
The movie has a few good “boo” moments, but there’s nothing which will haunt you once your screening is complete and you’re preparing to get some z’s in your darkened bedroom. There’s really no wallop of suspense or terror to be found here.
I didn’t really see the big reveal coming, but I wasn’t overly shocked or impressed with it either. Again, I think that sort of “meh” reaction has a lot to do with caring so little for the lead character (s). It’s almost as if this lack of sympathy somehow poisons an overall experience. Identifying with a character is mucho important. Take heed, writers/filmmakers.
Overall strong performances and lovely production values can’t make up for the disjointed journey the audience must endure. Dark Signal is not bad and not good. I think the word for that is “average” and that term will be reflected in my score as well.
Dark Signal is scheduled for theatrical release on June 2nd, 2017 and then VOD on June 6th.