The point of zombie movies is partly that the people we know and love will track us down and kill us. Everything else — whether they walk or run, whether they’re dead or infected, what they eat, how they got that way — is incidental. If you use that primal fear as a starting point, if you’re not the type who denies 28 Days Later is a zombie movie, then movies like The Crazies (both of them) and the underrated Impulse (the 1984 one) are a subset of the zombie genre.
That’s where The Signal comes in.
After the jump, enter the mind of a “zombie”
This 2007 indie movie, shot in the same Georgia where Walking Dead will mill about a few years later, is in the same category as 28 Days Later. Everyone but our heroine has been turned into a homicidal maniac. The title may or may not have something to do with it. Spoiler. But this movie is part of the established genre of your friends and neighbors, husbands and wives, trying to dismember you, even if it’s not for food.
In terms of structure, The Signal is an odd duck. Three directors collaborated, each taking charge for a discrete third of the movie. The result is a neatly arranged triptych. The first third is suitably creepy and tense, and the last third has a satisfying poetry to it. But the real standout is the middle third, which is what you would get if Christopher Durang wrote a play about zombies. The beauty of it is that it takes the audience into the mind of its zombies. It’s a wickedly funny parlor room drama about paranoia, betrayal, blood, bug spray, and what to do when that really annoying guy shows up at the party.
The movie Colin tried something similar — taking you inside the mind of a zombie — with an actual zombie and for an entire movie. Like a real zombie, Colin takes forever to get anywhere interesting, but it eventually reaches its meat. It was clever enough, if not a bit too on-the-nose and earnest. I’m suspicious of any zombie movie that doesn’t understand how absurd zombies are. No self-respecting zombie movie after Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead should be blind to its own ridiculousness (one of the many many problems with The Walking Dead).
I also like a horror movie that judges me for watching it, although it has to be sly about it. Like Quentin Dupeiux’s ebullient Rubber, The Signal delights me and then casually suggests, “Dude, are you sure it’s appropriate to be delighted at this stuff?”, all the while still delighting me. Contrast that to Tom Six’s aggressively confrontational Human Centipede 2, which disgusts me and then indicts me for watching it’s largely craft-free disgustingness. Wasn’t disgusting me in the first place enough abuse?
But The Signal isn’t at all heavy. It’s absurd, violent, and sometime flat-out comedic, but always and only for a narrative reason. There are no jokes here. Only skewed perspectives. The Signal is also the debut of AJ Bowen, a guy who has since hacked out his own niche as a sort of “scream prince” (that phrase probably isn’t going to catch on, is it?). If you haven’t seen him in A Horrible Way To Die, a movie he manages to drive without hardly being in it, I recommend it.
In the meantime, The Signal is available on Netflix instant view.