By: Brendan Graham
In the 1980s, several television broadcasts were hijacked by someone or some group, and for several minutes on these broadcasts, a series of bizarre messages and disturbing imagery disrupted the airwaves. Who hijacked the signal? Who made those messages? To this day, we don’t know. We all love a good mystery, especially the ones that may never be solved, but those kinds of mysteries are the ones people attach themselves to. The search for answers is exciting and intriguing, but the need to solve a mystery can have an intoxicating effect. What happens when we let our search for answers take us to our breaking point?Director Jacob Lentry uses the intrigue of those 80s broadcasts, and attempts to craft his own creepy interpretation, to mixed results.
In BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION, we are introduced to James (Harry Shum Jr.), a video archivist that is still grieving the disappearance of his wife. When he’s not logging old public access television to VHS tape (our story taking place in 1999), he’s repairing cameras and rewatching the footage of his late wife’s ballet performance. One evening, while recording a local broadcast, the tape goes to static, and a mysterious and unsettling image appears. A form of a woman with a creepy white mask, muttering gibberish in a robotic-sounding code. James starts to look into this "intrusion" and discovers there was another instance of it, and tries to hunt down the tape, but it’s been seized by the FCC and FBI following an investigation that came up with no leads. After finding a source who has the second tape, the mystery deepens when each tape could possibly be related to the disappearance of a woman a day before each broadcast. While James continues to bury himself in these broadcasts and their potential source, his own paranoia comes into play and he believes he’s being followed.
BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION is at its strongest in the first act when our protagonist discovers the first "intrusion." Our first viewing of the tape segment is jarring and unsettling, eliciting a similar (but not quite as scary) feeling of dread as we see in films like Sinister or The Ring. It seems deeply inspired by the YouTube video, “I Feel Fantastic” with Tara the Android, mimicking the oddly-proportioned room and haunting uncanny valley features on the mannequin/robot. The sound design is haunting, and the score by Ben Lovett is one of the highlights of the film. Harry Shum Jr. puts in a good performance as a man grieving for his lost love, while also being haunted by his need for answers. Lentry does a fantastic job of hooking in the viewer from the beginning, making you just as desperate for answers as James, but also wanting it to stay a mystery as it’s creepier that way.
The film doesn’t hold this momentum, however. Once more characters are introduced, who are only there to serve certain portions of the plot, it starts to all feel a bit stale. The character Alice (Kelly Mack) doesn't feel particularly useful for the story, despite a good performance, and really serves no important part of the plot. Part of what made the first act so intriguing is the lack of answers. As we are given breadcrumbs to follow this twisted tale, it feels too drawn out and loses its edge. BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION is mainly a mystery/thriller with the horror component more downplayed, and I feel like it didn’t balance its tone well. Outside of the tapes and dream sequences, the detective work becomes strenuous and fairly uninteresting towards the end. The ending is filled with atmosphere, but maybe a little too vague.
BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION is strongest when it plays its horror cards, and when it does, the film is very unsettling and creepy. The detective story fizzles out too fast, and fails to keep our interest as strong as it was at the beginning. The sound design is fantastic, the score is haunting, and the bits of horror we do get make this mystery worth seeing towards the end, even if it may feel like a chore for most to get there. I would love to see what Gentry has in store for us in the future, and I hope he finds that genre balance better next time.
BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION is available on DVD/Blu-Ray and video-on-demand services.