My nostalgia goggles were a little too tight
BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION (SXSW 2021)
Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a confusing film to read with its horrifying imagery from the very start to its intense build for the first fifty minutes of the film, only to have it all come crashing down with some nonsensical realizations and an ending that’ll leave you infuriated.
Director Jacob Gentry has created an ambitious, dare I say, horror film that nails the first act and a half of the film only to lose me entirely in the third act. I found the atmosphere Gentry created with the 90s technology and surroundings to be carefully done; it felt like the events were truly happening in that time period. The recordings of the intrusions brought about some truly unnerving imagery, but that’s where the praise ends. Tonally the film is on its head, unsure if it wants to strictly be a horror, a thriller, or a drama - not every film can be as tonally perfect as Se7en.
The film is inspired by a true event in 1987 where a mysterious person hijacked the airwaves wearing a Max Headroom mask on three separate occasions. Broadcast Signal Intrusion splits the mysterious interruptions into three separate dates instead of happening all on the same day, calling them the “Sal-E Sparks incident” and making it a paranoia conspiracy theory about missing person cases. The concept is unique, clever, and it caught my attention from the opening scene. However the issue with having a clever and unique concept is that you have to deliver on it, and Phil Drinkwater & Tim Woodall clearly didn’t know how to expand their 2016 short film to feature length. The film is completely spoiled by a conclusion that is unworthy of the concept it's built on, leaving the viewer aggravated and in need of more answers.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Broadcast Signal Intrusion is set in the late 90s, which is when our lead James (Harry Shum Jr.) discovers and tries to decrypt the reasoning behind the signal intrusions of the late 80s. His search to figure out who or what is behind the haunting clips lead him to a world of paranoia and conspiracy where he won’t stop until he has all the answers he desires. Shum provides us a look at a man that gets interlocked into a conspiracy about the intrusions and the never ending clues that will lead him to his hopeful answer to all his questions. His performance is good and compelling from the very start, however as his investigation goes on, his acting ability can’t quite keep up with his character’s decreasing sanity. The film doesn’t truly go downhill until the introduction of Alice, James’ stalker, who meets up with him in a bar to provide a nonsensical explanation about why she’s following our lead. Alice gives no reason to trust her from the start, so the fact that James continues a conversation with the woman, let alone let her sleep at his place that same night is dumbfounding. Her introduction also brings a lot of questions. Why is she so interested in James’ investigation? Why does she disappear without notice? The film simply gets restless after her first appearance and just wants to jump from plot point to plot point in order to keep the intensity up, but in doing so ruins the mystery entirely by the time the credits roll.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The robotic beings we see on television during the interruptions are wonderfully done; they shot a shiver down my spine every time they made an appearance in the film. Their sudden appearance and emotionless demeanor reminded me of the being known as Bagul in the Sinister franchise, which is a great thing because the face of Bagul is still present in my head.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Ben Lovett’s score is in your face. It’s very loud throughout and never quiets down, reminding me of a noir style mystery with its trumpets near the start and then the 80s style of an original horror film composition. It can become overwhelming at times, but ultimately it’s incredibly well done - vibrant, properly eerie, and produces the right amount of paranoia.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion had me gripped from its first moments and kept me captivated in the mystery behind the “Sal-E Sparks incident” until the 50 minute mark struck. From there, the film completely falls apart, leaving behind a tangled story with an inconclusive ending.