Broadcast Signal Intrusion


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Broadcast Signal Intrusion
"Timely in its exploration of how we determine what’s real and how easy it is for what seems like legitimate research to become unbalanced and lead to strange places." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

Sometimes they spread political or religious messages. Sometimes they claim to come from representatives of alien races. Sometimes – as in the famous Max Headroom incidents of 1987 – they’re so odd that no-one’s really sure what to make of them. Whatever the case, broadcast signal intrusions inevitably get people talking. There’s something unsettling about them, the way they emerge from nowhere into what seems like a familiar, intimate, safe space. It’s no wonder that people can become fascinated by them and that they often provide fodder for conspiracy theories.

It’s 1999. James (Harry Shum Jr) is a video archivist who spends his days transferring old broadcast footage into a digital format for posterity. Being alone in a dark basement suits him; his work is a distraction from the recent disappearance of his wife. It’s mere accident that he happens upon a broadcast signal intrusion on an old tape – or is it? The curious images in the inserted footage seem uncannily similar to dreams he has been having lately. Is somebody trying to tell him something?

The plot thickens when James discovers that this particular intrusion is well known within a community of people who make it their business to investigate such incidents – some from an academic perspective, some as a hobby, some (perhaps) for more sinister reasons. In fact, it’s part of a series of three, and the people behind them have never been found. They might, however, be connected to the disappearances of several women. Disturbed by this, James chases every lead he can find to try to find out more. His general concern for the possible victims, perhaps inspired by his own trauma, gradually morphs into a conviction that the intrusions are directly connected with the disappearance of his wife.

Caught up in the logic of thrillers, where leapt-to conclusions frequently prove to be correct, it’s easy to get caught up in this belief, but when the structure of the film begins to shift in its second half, that logic is called into question. Has James, in fact, simply lost his way? Was there really anything sinister behind the original intrusions, is it just in the minds of some of those obsessed with them, or could that obsession have created danger? Here the film has to decide whether it wants to remain in thriller territory or take on something more esoteric. Its central flaw is that it fails to do this, trying to have it both ways and thereby failing to hit its mark in either case, It’s a shame because there are some interesting ideas here, but ultimately the creative team has bitten off more than it can chew.

Featured at both Fantasia and Frightfest, this is a film which deserves praise for its efforts to do something different but which will ultimately leave most viewers frustrated. It’s certainly timely in its exploration of how we determine what’s real and how easy it is for what seems like legitimate research to become unbalanced and lead to strange places, but it becomes unbalanced in its efforts to tie up some of the thriller strands whilst remaining open ended. Perhaps because of this struggle to attain a coherent pattern, however, it will linger in your mind like one of the intrusions themselves.

Reviewed on: 01 Sep 2021
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In the late Nineties, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the dark conspiracy behind them.

Director: Jacob Gentry

Writer: hil Drinkwater, Tim Woodall

Starring: Harry Shum Jr., Kelley Mack, Chris Sullivan, Jennifer Jelsema, Arif Yampolsky, Justin Welborn, Michael B. Woods, Steve Pringle

Year: 2021

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: US

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