There's bravura manipulativeness to "The Signal," the stylish, slyly funny question mark of a movie from director and co-writer William Eubank.
At first it's a melancholy road trip in which college kids Nic (Brenton Thwaites), Haley (Olivia Cooke) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) battle future malaise and a mysterious, taunting computer hacker they're determined to track down in the Southwest.
After a strange blackout near the hacker's base, however, Nic awakens to discover he's separated from his friends and stuck in a sterile research facility with a wily, alien-contact-obsessed interrogator (Laurence Fishburne) in a space suit. That's when "The Signal" shape-shifts into an old-school head trip lark, and a pretty enjoyable one at that.
As Nic's fevered search to determine his predicament (and possible escape) gathers force, Eubank shows an ambitious taste for cruelly funny, paranoid sci-fi that calls to mind what a Kubrickian "Twilight Zone" episode might feel like. The fine performances anchor it (especially Thwaites'), the sleek, low-fi design makes for a cheeky mood dusting, and even if you're quick to guess the story's simple tricks of destiny, Eubank's fizzy mix of self-conscious, set-piece image=making and small-scale human detail is admirable.
"The Signal" isn't exactly loose, but there's a keen sense of play inside its movie-savvy deliberateness.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and language.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.