Broadcast Signal Intrusion, the new feature from Jacob Gentry, melds the period-based premise of Censor, the obsession with unraveling a potentially meaningless media-based conspiracy of Under The Silver Lake, and the excitement (and anxieties) over broadcast television as a medium of Videodrome to create a captivating combination of neo-noir and horror that delivers on the promise of its influences.
The film takes place in 1999 Chicago and follows James (Harry Shum Jr.), a video archivist grieving the loss of his wife who disappeared three years earlier, and his dive into a possible conspiracy based around a set of, you guessed it, broadcast signal intrusions. He discovers the first of these in the course of his work archiving old news reports. The content of the intrusion is surprisingly jarring, especially in a movie that up to that point hasn’t done anything remarkably stylish; we see a figure in a mannequin-like plain white mask, standing in the middle of a seemingly abandoned living room, looking into the camera and speaking but the only audio is thick static and some high-pitched beeps.
The style of the video, the setting in Chicago, and the intrusion’s in-movie dating as having occurred in 1987 make clear that the reference point for this is the Max Headroom signal hijacking that occurred in Chicago in 1987. The fact that the signal hijackers behind the Max Headroom intrusion were never caught adds an ominous and exciting real world mystery feel to Broadcast Signal Intrusion that the film manages to build on through James’ very grounded investigative work. This isn’t a film that takes the metaphysical turn of Videodrome or grows into the inescapable scale of Under The Silver Lake, it’s a small-scale film about a small-scale investigation. But that investigation grows meaningful to James because he believes it might have something to do with his wife’s disappearance, and meaningful to the audience because the mystery is so compelling.
It’s not often that the script is the most exciting aspect of a horror film, but Broadcast Signal Intrusion’s script is by far its greatest asset. The way that the mystery unfolds is absolutely thrilling as answers only beg more questions and explanations for why any of this happened are ever elusive. Shum’s performance also makes James a fully formed person instead of simply the character we follow to get answers, and ensures that the audience has an emotional tie to the film. He often smiles to himself when he uncovers a new piece of the mystery, and throughout the film he carries James’ grief and desperation for answers with him, even in his most mundane moments. It’s a performance that I hope earns Shum, who certainly has the good looks for movie stardom, more leading roles going forward.
As the film goes on, the camerawork becomes more and more ambitious, sometimes in genuinely interesting ways and sometimes in ways that feel a bit much, but it succeeds in communicating James’ mental journey into a rabbit hole that consumes him over the course of the film. The wonderfully horn-heavy score is fantastic and also becomes more erratic as the mystery unfolds, creating a claustrophobic auditory landscape. And while the film’s plot certainly hews more closely to noir than horror, the videos of the intrusions and the dreams that they inspire in James are at minimum unsettling, especially given the lack of explanation for their existence, and at most jump-inducing.
While the ending doesn’t quite stick the landing, Broadcast Signal Intrusion is an exciting mix of genres and ideas that sucks you into its compelling mystery while also introducing a number of thought-provoking ideas and making it feel unsafe to watch old TV broadcasts.
More from author Kyle Logan can be found here.