‘The Signal’ (2024) Review: A Compelling Sci-Fi Drama With An Unexpected Twist


Sci-fi has the potential to explore inexplicable phenomena and simply to let imagination run wild. It can be considered a testimony to the future mankind envisions or the parallel universe they won’t mind belonging to. Netflix’s The Signal (Das Signal) takes a rather grounded approach to the genre and blends it with drama and mystery, and the result is compelling. The drama takes precedence in this limited series, and uncovering a mysterious disappearance becomes the turning point. Sci-fi tends to gravitate towards raw human emotions, and The Signal is no exception.

The series primarily revolves around the mysterious disappearance of astronaut Paula. Her husband Sven and daughter Charlie watched her land on Earth with pride, and they looked forward to welcoming her back home. Charlie suffered from hearing loss, and Paula’s mission was to find a solution for Charlie’s betterment. She was hopeful that one day her daughter would be able to hear, and as a scientist, she was determined to not give up. Paula and Hadi were sent to the International Space Station by Indian billionaire Benisha Mudhi– a self-made businesswoman who believed in empowering those who showed potential. She shared a close relationship with Paula and trained her for the space program. Mudhi often stated that she loved Paula like her own daughter and wished nothing but the best for her. Paula had immense trust in Mudhi, and she had confidence in herself to make a groundbreaking discovery. Little Charlie was inspired by her mother and Mudhi—two self-made women who believed in bringing about a change in the world.

Charlie was fascinated by the history of space exploration, and as her mother’s daughter, she too believed in looking at the brighter side of things. Sven was a proud husband, and he eagerly waited for Paula’s return. Unlike Paula, Sven was a paranoid man. He was convinced that the state would tap into his smartphone and preferred using his feature phone. Sven was relieved when he received a call from Paula after the landing. He was a little surprised when she spoke to him in coded words. He could not decipher everything she said, but he realized it was crucial the minute her flight went missing. Paula had repeatedly mentioned the fox and hare game and the importance of staying ahead always. Sven was caught off guard when he received a voicemail from Paula talking about their anniversary, but she had gotten the date wrong. It was unlike Paula to make such mistakes, and Sven had a hunch that she knew prior to the landing that her life was in danger. The Signal is about how the father and daughter come together to solve the twisted mystery of Paula’s disappearance. It was them against the world from the minute they realized that nobody truly cared about Paula. The discovery that Paula made during her space exploration was key to understanding the reason behind the disappearance. The conspiracy was extremely elaborate, and all Sven cared about was bringing justice to Paula.

The Signal beautifully captures the father-daughter relationship. In just four episodes, we feel a connection with Sven and Charlie. The characters are well-written, and their reaction to the shocking truth feels honest and effective. In such overly dramatic situations, the chances of exaggeration of expression are high, and it leaves a bitter taste, but the creators have managed to strike a balance. The Charlie character is particularly worth mentioning. The writers brilliantly incorporated the presence of the little girl in situations that were beyond her comprehension. Her perspective on the entire crisis added a touch of innocence. Her uncomplicated opinion was a reminder of what truly mattered and how simple the solutions often are.

The focus of The Signal is primarily on the story. There is very little to explore beyond the narrative because, visually, it looks like any other series on Netflix. Cooler tones are used to underline Sven and Charlie’s grim situation, and a touch of warmth is introduced when Benisha Mudhi enters the frame. In several moments in the series, the audio is adjusted from the perspective of Charlie, and it acts as a reminder of how challenging and overwhelming the entire experience was for her.

Yuna Bennett is brilliant as Charlie. She seamlessly transformed into the character and delivered a genuine performance. The same goes for Florian David Fitz as the panic-stricken husband, Sven. He captures the exhaustion, the fear, and the grief that Sven goes through in the course of the series. Peri Baumeister as Paula lives up to her character. The contradiction between Paula’s dream of changing the world and her fear of losing her mind in a confined space is an interesting layer added to the character. I was pleasantly surprised to see Sheeba Chaddha in a German production, and as usual, she did complete justice to her character. The overall performance of the entire cast of The Signal is satisfying and one of the many reasons why the limited series manages to leave an impression. The same cannot be said about the background score. It is a little too generously spread and is overall quite generic, but thankfully not distracting.

The Signal reminds its audience that progress can only be made when we come together as one. The way the series began, this was not the message I anticipated. The chances of a Netflix sci-fi movie messing it up are high, especially when aliens are brought into the picture. But thankfully, the creators had a very particular vision about the message they wanted the audience to take back home—a welcoming twist in the tale. At a time when we are regularly coming across news of bombings, hunger, starvation, and inhumane war crimes committed, The Signal attempts to hold up the bigger picture. It reminds us how every step we take towards world peace is erased by another conflict. Of course, a four-episode series barely scratches the surface of the problem, and what it shows is already common knowledge, but we cannot deny that at the very least it arrives at something important and worth paying attention to. The way the creators have incorporated a significant moment in history into the narrative is praise-worthy. Overall, this Netflix German limited series does not disappoint unless you are searching for an outlandish sci-fi.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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