Whilst it will probably appeal to anyone who enjoys a good, engrossing mystery thriller, Jacob Gentry’s Broadcast Signal Intrusion will have a particular impact on those of us who have gone down late night YouTube rabbit holes, combing through Creepypasta and “Unexplained” videos.
The film – the first to emerge from the Frightfest film festival’s “New Blood” writers initiative – was written by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall. It follows James (Harry Shum Jr.), a video archivist in late ‘90s Chicago. His job is to transfer tapes of TV broadcasts to disk. His wife has been missing for several years now: a tragedy that has left him leading a solitary existence, seemingly in order to guard himself against letting anyone new in. Aside from a support group and an over friendly client, his only interactions are with his unseen boss, who communicates with him through post-it notes left at his desk.
One day, while dutifully logging tapes, he stumbles across an occurrence of a broadcast signal intrusion from the previous decade. These were basically ancestors of modern hacks, where video pirates would overpower a television signal and transmit their own broadcast. The most famous unsolved real world example of these was the Max Headroom Incident, which took place in Chicago, 1987.
The intrusion James finds is an eerie video of what appears to be either a mannequin or some kind of animatronic. He discovers that the perpetrators of these hacks were never identified and that this was part of a series of intrusions. Coincidentally, James realises that each of these hacks took place the day after a woman went missing. He becomes obsessed with uncovering the source of these incidents and to make sense of it all. This quest soon takes over his life, bringing him down darker and darker paths.
Like Sinister or one memorably disturbing sequence from Kill List, Broadcast Signal Intrusion hones in on the power of showing its protagonist alone, watching something frightening. The film credits special effects wizard Daniel Martin (Lords of Chaos, Possessor) with the design of the intrusions themselves. An obvious and admitted influence on these sequences is I Feel Fantastic, a now infamous online video which haunted the early days of YouTube. These sequences capture a familiar Lynchian feeling of uncanny terror; it’s hard to say what is unnerving about them, but something feels wrong. The film is genuinely unsettling and tense at times.
The mystery of Broadcast Signal Intrusion is wholly gripping, aided with fantastic direction, Shum Jr’s performance and a memorable, noirish, discordant score by Ben Lovett. What’s incredibly curious (and in no way am I suggesting one influenced the other) is how thematically alike both Broadcast Signal Intrusion and Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond’s much lauded feature debut) are. Both are period films about characters dealing with missing loved ones, who then become obsessed as a result of something they’ve seen on a tape. I really appreciate both films but prefer Broadcast Signal Intrusion because I found its revelations more interesting.
This was my favourite film of this year’s Horrorthon film festival and comes highly recommended.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion was viewed at the IFI Horrorthon 2021. Its Irish release date is TBC