io9 Talks to "The Signal" Directors About the Secret Techno-Evils of Atlanta

The crazy-making static in The Signal is actually just making people act on impulses they already feel, say directors David Bruckner and Jacob Gentry. And some of the weirdest moments in the techno-horror movie come from people struggling to act civilized while the Signal messes them up. We talked to two out of three directors of The Signal, and found out their plans for continuing the story. Click through for shocking secrets (and minor spoilers).

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In The Signal, it's New Year's Eve in the super-conformist Terminus City. Ben is trying to convince his lover Maya to leave her husband Lewis, but then all the televisions and cell phones turn themselves on and start beaming an electronic buzz. It takes away people's inhibitions and makes them murderous, or just plain wacko. Ben and Lewis both search the city for Maya, but they have very different ideas in mind for her. Here's what Bruckner and Gentry had to say about their movie, opening Feb. 22.

So I read that each of the movie's three directors wrote and directed a separate segment of the film. Does it have a coherent story, or is it just like an anthology?

Gentry: The idea is that you're watching one continuous story. It's not a segmented or fragmented narrative. It's actually kind of fairly unique. Episodic television would be the closest approximation of what we did. It continues and it's sequential and linear but we shift the point of view of the story, if that makes sense. Instead of following the one guy (Ben) through the whole thing trying to get the girl (Maya), you follow the girl leaving the guy, and then you live with the antagonist (Lewis) through the middle of the movie and that really just allows us to understand better what the Signal does to people, while still moving the story forward.

Bruckner: It's actually the story of a love triangle. Maya's husband Lewis, he is the subject of the second story. Ben and Lewis are both looking for her in this environment. [and Lewis goes nuts due to the Signal.] but the signal is a weird thing, you know. Our philosophy is it affects everyone, it just affects people differently.

And Ben is immune to the effects of the Signal?

Bruckner: Ben is not immune, he has a way of managing it. It affects everybody differently and to different degrees. It amplifies people's desires and fears in a way, and that they rationalize their way around that. The Signal doesn't have to push people too far to change the nature of society. It's like a domino effect.

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Do we find out what the signal comes from?

Bruckner: I would never tell you. You have to see the movie. I think that'll come as a bit of a surprise if you watch the film.

Gentry: The signal is a very powerful thing and the source of it is definitely something to be discussed. That's what we hope you walk away with, is trying to understand where the signal comes from, if anywhere. Toledo, actually. It comes from Toledo.


How was it working with two other directors? How did you coordinate to keep everything consistent?

Bruckner: We wanted to turn around a horror film and do it really fast, and we all had our pet projects we were working on. I don't think any of us had really made a horror film. We thought, "Well, what's a way to get a low budget movie made really quick?" and the idea was, Let's divide into three segments and we'll each do one segment. We all knew we'd bring different styles to the table because we're different filmmakers and we just made peace with that. And just said, "Let's just have fun. It's a low budget horror film. Chances are it's just going to get sold overseas and nobody's ever going to see it, so let's just do what we want to do." There's very different distinct styles between the three, and we found a way to make that work for the story. You probably heard that the second segment (directed by Gentry) is sort of a comedy. And then the third one is very much the spiritual core of the film that kind of explores the meaning of it all in a way. There are also differences in acting style from segment to segment.

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Why do you think there are so many movies about technology being evil or driving people berzerk?

Gentry: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that our technology's ahead of us, meaning that the rate that technology evolves is exponential, so every day it's compiling new things on top of new things and we don't necessarily have hindsight or understanding.

Bruckner: You're probably going to see more indictments of technology. You're going to see a lot of scifi that goes back to that place of, "What are we messing with that we don't understand?" Technology has outrun culture. There's a fear that we're moving quickly and we don't understand what the effects of all this are going to be.


What were your influences in making this movie?

Bruckner: I looked at a lot of Spielberg. I think he's exceptional at sequencing and giving you a sense of time and space. The thing that really drives me nuts with movies right now is they get so flashy with the cuts the high impact stuff and the spectacle that you don't generally have an idea of where someone is relative to the sense of danger and therefore you can't willingly suspend your disbelief because you just don't have any idea what's going on.


Gentry: I did the middle chapter, what's been considered the comedy chapter, and for me it was really doing the movie The Shining as a Noel Coward play. Any kind of physical comedy of errors where you're trapped in a situation, and [people try to retain their] social etiquette. A lot of movies quickly abandon that, when I think we would hold on to that a lot longer. I don't think we just instantly turn into primal warriors, I think we would still try to figure it out. For me it was like having a bunch of people take hallucinogenic drugs for the first time and try to act like they're not intoxicated. I sort of equate comedy and horror in a lot of ways. I think they function on the same kind of mechanisms, very similar between the two, it's all about anticipation and suspense.

Why set your movie in the fictional Terminus City? Why not set it in Atlanta, where you really live?

Bruckner: I think we wanted to originally fictionalize the world into something more specific. We wanted to amplify the technology and the sense of a marketed culture. Like everybody's got a flatscreen TV. There are sort of these huge condo boxes going up everywhere in Atlanta, and these little planned corporate complexes where they built condo boxes and they built the shops and the grocery store into one big unit and they are providing everything you need for the way you live. If you say Atlanta, there's such a tradition to it and such a big idea, and we wanted Terminus to be that vision of Atlanta.

Gentry: Terminus is the original name for Atlanta, in the 1800s. Atlanta was originally a terminus for all the railways, the ending point for all the trains. In the original original idea, when it was a kernel, we had this city called Terminus, which Is where all the railways end up. The terminus for all the railways, you can get into Terminus but you can't get out. All media, all communication, all trains, all trucks, they all end up in this archetypal type of city.

Why is Terminus City so conformist? Is there a lot of backstory there in the movie?

Gentry: We don't actually get a lot of info in the movie about what the city is like. We've also created some webisodes that we shot recently. In the movie we have transmission one, two and three. The webisodes are transmissions 37, 23 and 55. These are just three other smaller stories that are happening concurrently with the stories in the movie. And we continue to build the world around that. We're really continuing to develop what this city is and who are the inhabitants, and as we continue to do more Signal movies, we're going to continue to expand and deal with all facets of the city.

You're doing a sequel?

Gentry: We're not announcing that right now. But depending on what the demand is for it, we definitely have ideas and stories that go well beyond the first movie. We haven't officially said that we're doing it. We definitely, as storytellers, have expanded the world way beyond the movie itself.

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Slashfilm said your film has an important social message. What do you think it is?


Bruckner: I think it's about choice. I think it's about what you choose to do in this situation. The people doing the violence (in the movie) have reasons for what they choose to do. The film kind of explores how you get around that, how you make the right choice.


Jon W.

@iamtehawesome: Any movie that has J. Lo. playing fetish Barbie is fine by me.