The relationship between filmmakers and critics can be complicated. Directors can use years get something done, and can understandably get defensive when a critic fires off a review that dismisses, misinterprets, or condemns that project. Conversely, critics consider themselves analysts of form and/or function and temperature takers of the merits of a work. When their criticism is reprimanded, it can feel as if their role as cultural commentators is being challenged. Of course, each party can learn from the other, but as with any relationship, their dynamic requires mutual respect, humility, and a level of compassion.
Back in 2008 I reported The signalthe debut film of co-directors David Bruckner (Hellraiser), Jacob Gentry (Synchronicity), and Dan Bush (The vault). I didn’t like it, and said as much in my write-up to the IGN website. But in time I would become friends with Gentry and professionally crossed paths with Bruckner several times. One night at a private event—and after a few grown-up drinks—Gentry admitted that he and his collaborators had read my review, and it sparked what I considered an extremely funny moment of inspiration. When I spoke with Bruckner recently for his extraordinary new Hellraiser Adaptation, we repeated this moment from earlier in our career to get the consequences of my review officially on record.
The AV club: A few years ago I met Jacob Gentry. We’re going to be friends, and he mentioned that a review I wrote of your movie, The signal, had inspired an element of a potential sequel. I was hoping you would talk to me about it.
David Bruckner: I was really hoping you would bring this up. Because you and I had only acknowledged this once, which I believe was at Fantastic Fest in 2018. The signal was 2008 and we had never released a film to the public. Jacob Gentry, myself, and Dan Burton were three directors who were part of this triptych film that we had made – very, very indie. We weren’t used to getting reviews. And Todd, your first shift off The signal, you didn’t enjoy it, which is fair. And your critique was exquisite. And then we started brainstorming one Signal successor. And sometimes we’ll refer to Todd Gilchrist, like, how do we make Todd Gilchrist happy? And this mutated in our writers room into a character known as Gill Toddchrist. It was a joke to us. And then he found his way into the script – and he turned out fantastic. And it became a lot of fun for us that he was just amazing. One tidbit about Gill was that he was a sports fan and he really liked giving play-by-play of “Signalled” people on the street. So he could talk whoever he was around into what was about to happen and had an uncanny ability to predict how it would land. And then I found out that you and Jacob later met and became friends and was very happy to hear that there was a conversation about that happening.
But The signal was the first film that ever came out that I made with my friends. It was about a signal that broke out across all media devices. It manifests visually as a strange form of a twisted Rorschach [image] and cut off all digital communication. And suddenly people start acting funny and they get excited. Their fears and their desires suddenly go through the roof and the next thing you know, violence breaks out in the streets and it becomes these kind of apocalyptic scenarios. We made this film before social media, and it’s basically Twitter incarnate. And we wrote a sequel at some point. I don’t think the world knew what to do The signal, and it was a bizarre film. And there were things about it that really worked, and there were things where we were really out to try some things. But we conceptualized a TV series at one point that we took out that we haven’t been able to sell. So who knows? Maybe there is still life in it The signal, but for me it is still relevant. It’s super fun. It’s a kind of excessive, insane violence. But there’s a lot in it about communication and how our perspectives are siloed. And there’s a real psychedelic quality to it that can be quite scary.
AVC: That’s such an interesting idea, and it sounds more relevant than ever. But also the idea of being the villain in a horror film was quite frankly very exciting for me.
DB: Well, I will also say it was a learning experience for us about having thick skin. Since then I’ve come to realize that everyone is going to have a different take on the things you create and you just have to roll with it and actually learn to embrace the fact that not everyone is going to get it or experience it. that, or some people will see the seams in something, depending on what their experiences are. And look, I’m a moviegoer. I am as critical as anyone. But I have to say there was an arc for us in learning about it, because even though Gill started out as a villain, when I say he was amazing, he did incredible things! Like he became a good guy for us. So we weren’t just send what you have written. We worked, I think, through our own experience of just putting something out there. So yeah, I’m really glad we could talk about this.
AVC: Me too. It feels very therapeutic. But I love the idea of that interaction – and if it’s at my expense, even better.
DB: I think we need to have honest discussions about our experiences with the movies. I mean, I’m a person who reads reviews, not just from my own stuff. The first thing I do after watching a movie is hop on and read what my favorite critics are saying about it. And it’s a doorway that I have into a conversation about what it is, and you get to analyze your feelings with experiences. Part of that is, of course, discussing the things that don’t work for us. But one day I will give you all the details about the Gill and where it went. And I think you’ll find that he was a pretty current character, and he was great—he developed into wonderful places and wasn’t a villain by any means.