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SHORTWAVE (2016)

Directed by Ryan Gregory Phillips
Written by Thomas H. McDaniel & Frank Ponce (story editor), Ryan Gregory Phillips (screenplay)
Starring Juanita Ringeling, Cristobal Tapia Montt, Kyle Davis, Sara Malakul Lane, Katie Carthen, Jay Ellis, Mick Ignis, Santwon McCray, Thomas H. McDaniel, Nina Senicar
Find out more about this film here, @ShortwaveMovie, and on Facebook here

Films about the science of signals are tough to pull off. Sure big budget stuff like CONTACT and SIGNS worked with big stars, but that didn’t save films like WHITE NOISE. And while I haven’t seen THE SIGNAL yet, SHORTWAVE does seem to offer up some impressive sounds and visuals with a compelling story of loss and grief.

Isabel (Juanita Ringeling) drops her child off at a library reading and excuses herself to the bathroom, when she returns, the entire group is gone. Turns out her daughter has disappeared without a trace and both Isabel and her scientist husband Josh (Cristobal Tapia Montt) are overcome with grief and resentment. While Isabel attempts to settle into a new home with Josh, Josh and his fellow scientist Thomas (Kyle Davis) discover a shortwave radio frequency from what seems to be another world. But once this frequency is discovered, Isabel begins experiencing powerful audio and visual hallucinations of open fields, wooded forests, her daughter calling out to her, and a large black alien creature. Is this all in Isabel’s head or does this have something to do with Josh’s new discovery?


SHORTWAVE is an effective little descent into oblivion. The film really makes use of vivid imagery that range from gorgeous to nightmarish, sometimes all at once. It also utilizes some truly horrifying sounds in a way that it truly unnerving. All of this makes the horrors Isabel and Josh are going through all the more palpable. Their grief and sorrow is almost given shape with these unnatural sounds set to these bizarre landscapes and the film does a great job of placing the viewer right in the middle of it all.

There are some pretty wide plot holes going on in SHORTWAVE that never really get answered. The film begins with a revelation that Josh and his cohort Thomas have stumbled upon a message from an alien race and are quite excited about this discovery. But the film quickly drops that plot point to focus on the fact that this frequency has more to do with the inner workings of human perception and the notion that they are communicating with life forms billions of miles away simply goes nowhere. The monsters, it turns out, are inside of us, just a frequency away, as is revealed later—but if this were the case the Josh and Thomas knew it, why were they so jazzed about it when they discovered it. Was it all for show in front of Isabel? Also, there is no mention of the rest of the group and the teacher at the library that disappears along with Isabel and Josh’s daughter. Is no one looking for them? Didn’t they disappear with her? It seems so in the opening, but isn’t made clear.

The film wraps up in an ambiguous manner that really does pack a powerful emotional whallop. All involved, especially Juanita Ringeling as Isabel, do a great job here. Ringeling carrying the most acting heft here, is put through the ringer. The stunning Sara Malakul Lane is once again shuffled off into the corner and underutilized, but gives a nice little turn as Thomas’ well-intentioned wife. There’s a heavy amount of gore in the last half hour which adds to the visceral raw nerve feel of the emotional early scenes, but this one is a slow starter with a lot of moping in the first half hour that is tough to trudge through. But if you do, you get some pretty potent horror/sci fi stuff by the end of SHORWAVE as Isabel makes her final stand against her other dimensional adversaries while trapped within an automated home. This is a mixed review, I know, but I feel that there is enough here that is going to please fans of sci fi mixed with gore and human sorrow. For me, it worked, but SHORTWAVE left me with more questions than answers.