Director dabbles in the strange and mysterious

Director William Eubank, at Eastern State Penitentiary, has long been a sci-fi fan.
Director William Eubank, at Eastern State Penitentiary, has long been a sci-fi fan. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff)
Posted: June 13, 2014

William Eubank's 2011 directorial debut, Love, announced the arrival of a major new talent in American cinema.

An enigmatic tone poem about the power of stories to unite people, it staged a dynamic collision of imagery from the American Civil War with a futuristic tale about the International Space Station.

Eubank mines the strange and the mysterious again with The Signal, a genre-defying sci-fi thriller opening Friday.

Brenton Thwaites ( Maleficent, Oculus), Olivia Cooke ( The Quiet Ones, Bates Motel), and newcomer Beau Knapp ( Super 8) star in The Signal as MIT computer students on a cross-country road trip who have a traumatic collision with . . . the unknown.

Call it an alien invasion, a top-secret military experiment or the onset of collective psychosis - an event occurs that alters the students' lives forever.

"I was always a big Twilight Zone fan. Outer Limits, I was into all that kind of stuff," Eubank said. "You know, mind-bender type stuff. Movies that dip into different genres."

Eubank, 31, who has worked as a cameraman and cinematographer for the last decade, chatted during a visit to Eastern State Penitentiary. Half-flooded after a long rain, it's a perfect place to discuss Eubanks' creepy thriller.

Eubank created The Signal by mashing together two of his favorite types of films. It opens as a found-footage mystery that takes its cues from The Blair Witch Project before shifting unexpectedly and quite radically into an entirely different genre.

"I love directors who flip genres like that, but I do it just because I'm a fan of so many different kinds of things," Eubank said. "So I took what I thought would be the most interesting ones to work with."

The mystery seems straightforward: Someone has hacked into MIT's mainframe and scrambled the records of our three heroes. Taunted by threats, the trio decide to use their trip to track down the hacker's signal, taking along a video camera to record their progress. Very Blair Witch.

That's when the event occurs.

Eubank admits it's virtually impossible to describe the movie without spoilers.

So what happens to the three friends?

The film switches from horror to sci-fi when they wake up in an underground compound composed of a series of endless corridors - a little like the ones at Eastern State.

"Is it possible they're at Area 51 or some other government facility?" Eubank asked with a playful smile. They could be dreaming, mad. They could be on a spaceship.

The only thing they know for sure is that they don't trust their captor (Laurence Fishburne), who claims he's a doctor treating them for a dangerous infection.

The infection must be eating their appendages! Why else does one of the friends wake up with legs made of metal? Another now has a metal arm.

Eubank said that by the end, the audience would realize they've sat through what could be a prequel for a superhero story - the origin story that explains how a hero came by . . . super-strong metal legs.

"I would love to think that this is a very honest version of that origin story," Eubank said. "Of how it . . . would take a real trauma for someone to acquire a power. How crazy it would be."

So is there a sequel in the works?

"Hopefully," a coy Eubank said. "Yes, someday, maybe. We'll see one."


MOVIE

"The Signal"

Opening Friday in area theaters.


tirdad@phillynews.com

215-854-2736

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