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'The Signal' offers a fresh take on zombie films

The Signal (R)

3 stars out of 4

Earlier this year, "Cloverfield" showed us there is still something new you can do with a horror/suspense movie. Most of it was done by way of technique and presentation, but the movie also came with a riveting story that eschewed traditional horror convention. Last week, veteran director George Romero did the same thing with "Diary of the Dead" but was hampered by a largely lackluster and recycled story.

Filmed mostly in Atlanta and set in the fictional city of Terminus (the original name of Atlanta), "The Signal" takes the recent trend of electronic-based paranoia ("Pulse," "The Ring") and works it into a zombie framework. This approach in and of itself isn't very original, but the movie's three co-writers/co-directors aren't about to let that deter them. Being derivative is OK as long as you aren't too obvious or predictable.

The best and most obvious tweaking comes with the zombies. They're not undead or speechless, and they often move at a quick clip. They're not infected by bites from other zombies, but rather from the distorted and hypnotic audio/visual signals being sent through telephones, radio and TV (but oddly, not over the Internet). Half of the time, the zombies don't even know they're infected, and even when they are, they still have some degree of rational thought.

Filmmakers David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry work solo on each of the movie's three acts to varying degrees of success. Gentry's second act is the most interesting, as it slips heavily into macabre black humor and keeps the film from becoming an overwhelmingly apocalyptic downer. (Magnet Releasing)