Dark Signal, the debut feature from writer/director Edward Evers-Swindell (with Dog Soldiers’ Neil Marshall on executive producing duties), is a brooding, atmospheric slasher/ghost story hybrid, set in the wilderness of North Wales and, to its credit, it hits or at least attempts to hit the spot more often than it doesn’t, thanks to sprightly direction and a game cast. But its aspirations are somewhat hampered by a sluggish and often unfocussed script, a batch of tough-to-root-for characters and, fatally, its delivery of a bogeyman who appears to have no motivation for his boorish behaviour and who, as a consequence, is difficult to find especially interesting or scary.
In a nicely developed set up, North Wales is being terrorised by a murderer who likes to hack off his victims’ wedding ring finger. Two convergent storylines see low-rent radio DJ Lawrie (Morris) making her final broadcast with the help of her wide-eyed technician Ben (David-Lloyd) and, to spice up their last show, they’ve wheeled in plausible psychic Carla (Fulci/Argento icon Monreale) to attempt to commune with the dead. When Carla appears to make contact with a tortured soul from beyond the grave, it’s easy to understand why Ken Bruce never pulls similar stunts on his Radio 2 show. Elsewhere Kate (Ignaczewska) is acting as a getaway driver for her dodgy boyfriend Nick (Duncan Pow), as he tries to recover a wodge of cash he’s owed by a client. But she finds herself stranded in the middle of nowhere receiving visitations both earthly and unearthly.
In theory this is good meaty stuff, with plenty of dramatic potential but somewhere along the line the film loses its sense of direction and its sense of purpose and begins to drift alarmingly where it should be racketing up the tension and jangling our nerves. The two storylines take an age to come together and rely too often on cheesy clichéd jump scares – look, something snarling has sprung out of the darkness! – and moments of turn-away-from-the-screen violence which seem to have been flung into the mix just to keep our interest from flagging. Fortunately the last act, where everything finally comes together, makes sticking with Dark Signal worthwhile in the explosive and wincingly-brutal confrontation between the murdering psychopathic lunatic and his final potential victim.
Dark Signal benefits enormously from gutsy performances from its cast with Siwan Morris as the jaded, cynical crisp-obsessed Lawrie working well with Torchwood’s David-Lloyd’s keen-as-mustard Ben. Veteran star James Cosmo delivers a typically-bearish cameo (even though he might well have stepped straight from the set of the recent dark BBC2 drama Stag) but Ignaczewska struggles to evoke much sympathy as the beleaguered Kate, even when her circumstances take a turn for the worse. Tautly-directed and deftly exploiting its cold, remote, dark locations, Dark Signal will provide a few thrills and the odd spill but it’s not, in the end, one which will linger long in the memory.
DARK SIGNAL / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: EDWARD EVERS-SWINDELL / SCREENPLAY: EDWARD EVERS-SWINDELL, ANTONY JONES/STARRING SIWAN MORRIS, GARETH DAVID-LLOYD, JOANNA IGNACZEWSKA, CINZA MONREALE, JAMES COSMO / RELEASE DATE: 30TH MAY