SXSW 2021: Broadcast Signal Intrusion Channels the Best of Noir Obsession

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Broadcast Signal Intrusion

Broadcast Signal Intrusion is directed by Jacob Gentry, written by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall, and had its World Premiere during the virtual SXSW Film Festival 2021 and stars Harry Shum Jr., Kelley Mack, Chris Sullivan, and Jennifer Jelsema.

Set in the late 90s, James (Harry Shum Jr.) is a video archivist who unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the dark conspiracy behind them. Driven by the loss of someone close to him, James spirals into an obsession of finding messages in the strange and menacing videos.

To start, broadcast signal intrusions are terrifying to think about on their own and have a history of spawning netlore. A broadcast signal intrusion is the hijacking of broadcast signals of radio, television stations, cable television broadcast feeds, or satellite signals without permission. The most famous of these occurred in Chicago in the 1980s, twice, when a person wearing a Max Headroom mask interrupted the local news and then an episode of Doctor Who. There was also a mysterious third intrusion that was speculated but never confirmed. While these iconic intrusions are dismissed by everyone, save some web sleuths, Gentry’s film posesses the possibility that there is something sinister lurking behind the prank.

While the inspiration behind the film is clearly the Max Headroom intrusions, Broadcast Signal Intrusion is its own brand of terrifying. From the figure in the videos, an animatronic with a terrifying sound, to a mysterious who interjects himself into James’ life, to the warnings to leave the tapes alone, nearly every second of Broadcast Signal Intrusion is unsettling. Topped with a jazz-score and the white static of a TV station, there is no shortage of tension-building.

As James becomes more disheveled, obsessed, and unhinged, you want him to stop searching. But James is compelling, barreling ahead towards solving the mystery and gaining answers to his own life. In this role, Shum Jr. is breathtaking. His emotions are erratic, grounded, and intimidating all in one. As the film moves forward and James learns more about the intrusions, his temperament changes.

When I first entered this screening, I was expecting a horror movie woven into science fiction, but as it unravels and the thought of a human behind the intrusions becomes real, it’s clear that this is more crime thriller than anything. Its genre-blending style allows Shum Jr. to flex every acting muscle he can and damn does he shine.

Beyond Shum Jr., the costuming, pacing, and delivery of mysterious developments is executed with near perfection. My one critique for Broadcast Signal Intrusion is its lighting. While dark scenes are a given with the film’s noir inspirations, some are so badly lit that you can’t make out clearly what is going on. Instead of creating a sense of darkness, the film washes out its characters, and even with screen brightness cranked all the way up, it’s difficult to appreciate some of the intense moments of the film because of this.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a Midnighters gem, one that deserves to be picked up with speed. Shum Jr. is a talent that deserves many more leading roles, with a charismatic presence that can be equally intimidating.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion was screened at the virtual SXSW Film Festival 2021.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a Midnighters gem, one that deserves to be picked up with speed. Shum Jr. is a talent that deserves many more leading roles, with a charismatic presence that can be equally intimidating.