Dark Signal is a serviceable horror film with a strong premise marred by some shoddy writing and uninspiring execution.
Dark Signal is a serviceable horror film with a strong premise marred by some shoddy writing and uninspiring execution. At its center, there’s a striking hook to hang a genre exercise on, but the journey there and back is just not interesting enough to warrant the buildup, even if the release is weirdly satisfying.
Its simple logline, “slain girl haunts radio show,” has so much potential; but man does writer/director Ed Evers-Swindell miss the boat on making it shine. Dark Signal follows two female leads. There’s Laurie Wolf (Siwan Morris), a radio DJ with a tragic past who’s hosting her last show ever; and Kate (Joanna Ignaczewska), a broke single mom whose shitbag boyfriend ropes her into helping with a burglary.
What links the two women is Ben (Gareth David-Lloyd), Laurie’s producer/engineer and an unrequited love interest for Kate from an online dating site. Ben invites Kate to the show, but she’s gotta be the getaway driver for Nick (Duncan Pow), a guy so blatantly scummy his name may as well be Red Herring.
The film begins with a flashback to a young woman named Sarah (Eleanor Gecks) being murdered by The Wedlock Killer, who slays women and cuts off their ring fingers. Sarah, through the assistance of a psychic guest on Laurie’s radio show, claws from the afterlife through the airwaves to help catch the man who ended her life.
Now, that sounds like a cool idea for a movie. Something about the analog hiss of radio noise and ghosts and crossed voices all feels right for this kind of moody thriller. But it takes a good 40 fucking minutes to get to the ghost bit, and the basic, bumbling way all the other character machinations are set into motions is beyond boring.
It feels like the first pass of a script, because every plot point or piece of character is doled out with amateurish exactitude. You can see the individual index cards stuck to a corkboard that make up every beat. Remember the Wes Craven season of “Project Greenlight?” Every scene of Dark Signal feels like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon rolling their eyes at your inability to embrace the rewrite process. Which is a shame, because visually, the film has style and atmosphere. It’s just a messy, largely pointless story that can’t decide if it wants to be a mystery, a ghost story or a procedural.
The one thing this film has going for it, without spoiling the big killer reveal or its thematic implications, is the big showdown between the Wedlock Killer and the final girl. Lots of these movies end with a woman fighting tooth and nail to defeat a much larger man with a hatchet or whatever, but Dark Signal’s ending battle is rough and tumble, visceral in a way that can only be compared to Roddy Piper and Keith David going at it in John Carpenter’s They Live (interesting, given The Fog’s influence on this film). It has a tongue-in-cheek brutality sorely missing from the rest of this straightforward, self serious affair. It’s nice to dispense with the bad guy in cathartic fashion, but it’s a shame the journey there is such a slog.