Broadcast Signal Intrusion, 2021.
Directed by Jacob Gentry.
Starring Harry Shum Jr., Kelley Mack, Chris Sullivan, James Swanton, Justin Welborn, Madrid St. Angelo, Jennifer Jelsema, Arif Yampolsky, Michael B. Woods, and Steve Pringle.
In the late 90s, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the dark conspiracy behind them.
It’s always frustrating when a filmmaker abandons the central concept providing their film uniqueness and intrigue. Such is the case with director Jacob Gentry’s 1999 Chicago-set Broadcast Signal Intrusion, which follows internally tormented video archivist James (Harry Shum Jr., a bit lost whenever tasked with displaying emotion unless it’s having a breakdown over his obsession with this personal case) who, while transferring VHS tapes to DVD, stumbles across hacked live television from the 1980s inserting a creepy plastic-masked sending off an ominous vibe.
Naturally, this rare phenomenon leads James down a rabbit hole of mystery that hits closer to home upon realizing that the three hacked signals always came one day after its nefarious and unknown mastermind kidnapped and presumably murdered women, one of which happens to be his late ballerina wife seeing via VHS footage. This technological cold case also allows for refreshing investigative tactics, forcing James to peruse defunct online message boards for clues while hunting down the other tapes containing hacked footage (amusingly, one of the interrupted shows is a sitcom involving an android housewife). Someone wants this to stay buried, as even asking about its whereabouts turns out to be reason enough to play someone on an FBI watchlist.
Unfortunately, Broadcast Signal Intrusion transitions into a more procedural thriller, prioritizing in-person interviews with persons of interest that lack suspense. It doesn’t help that the story is a series of red herrings without any complex characters to read into. Usually, I’m drawn to stories about compulsive protagonists losing all sense of direction as a means to a specific end, but the script from Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall never find motives worth investing in for heroes nor villains beyond basic good and evil (or sane and clinically crazy). It goes from one suspect in the next before concluding with a somewhat neat reveal that ties into other fictional aspects of the movie while simultaneously coming across like something out of The Twilight Zone, yet also amounts to nothing more than shoulder-shrugging.
When not barreling headfirst into his private investigation, James continues to grieve his 12-years-gone wife, attending support groups where he also befriends Alice (Kelley Mack). There’s not much especially fascinating about her either, although one of the few intense scenes in the movie sees her and James coming to opposite conclusions on a suspect’s testimony. It’s also where Harry Shum Jr. starts to find a groove in the psychological deterioration that the performance is demanding from him, although too late. The same can’t be said for the rest of the investigation, which is presented as a noir (complete with a jazzy soundtrack from Ben Lovett) that works against eliciting scares. Even the hijacked signal footage rarely conjures up any unnerving feelings regarding physical appearance. However, the early reveal that each video is a confession for a murdered woman is slightly unsettling. It’s fair to say that there is an unnerving mood to an extent, but it’s clear the filmmakers have no idea what to do with it.
It’s fun to imagine what Broadcast Signal Intrusion could have been had it never left the archives room or kept its mystery squarely inside outdated technology and the infancy of the Internet. Slowly ratcheting up suspense there probably would have worked better than introducing a slew of bland characters that are as barely defined as James.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com