By Clark Collis
Updated June 20, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT
Focus Features

The Signal

  • Movie

Hard science fiction meets tender hearts in a slow-burn, twist-filled thriller from cinematographer-turned-director William Eubank. Brenton Thwaites (Maleficent) stars as Nic, a hunky computer geek who is driving cross-country with his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke from Bates Motel) and their pal Jonah (Beau Knapp). Things go awry in a big way when the road-trippers unwisely take a detour to track down a hacker named Nomad who’s been bedeviling them. The trio wind up in an abandoned shack in the middle of the Nevada desert, where they are attacked by forces unknown. It gets worse! Nic awakens in a windowless research facility to discover that his beloved Haley is in a coma and that both he and Jonah are effectively prisoners of the joint’s soft-spoken but highly ominous chief (Laurence Fishburne). What is happening? Will Nic escape? And do we even want him to, given that the facility’s workers all wear protective suits when interacting with their guests/test subjects? Like Fishburne’s tight-lipped character, we’ll keep mum on what in the Sam Hill is going on, lest we ruin what fun The Signal has to offer. But we can say that Lin Shaye (Insidious) turns up halfway through the movie to do what Lin Shaye does best, which is play a nutball.

If all this sounds like a souped-up episode of The Twilight Zone or The X-Files, then you’re in the right ballpark — or underground bunker. But Eubank invests enough time and effort in Nic and Haley’s relationship (and the movie’s often gorgeous visuals) to make the journey pass pleasurably enough — even if some viewers may have a decent idea as to the nature of the final destination long before their arrival. B

The Signal

  • Movie
  • R
  • 101 minutes
  • David Bruckner
  • Dan Bush
  • Jacob Gentry