From Queensbury Pictures, those loveable psychopaths that brought you Girl On The Third Floor, comes an obsessive acid trip adventure into the annals of analog horror in Jacob Gentry’s Broadcast Signal Intrusion. Like a Videodrome for 90s kids, Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a maddening descent into a mysterious world of missing women and found footage freakiness featuring some pretty unsettling gonzo-style videos with distorted voices, creepy latex masks, and palpable dread. I don’t think the movie ever gets as surreal as it forecasts but it’s overloaded with paranoia and shot-on-video scares that feel like transmissions spliced in from an evidence locker of unsolved online mysteries.
Celebrating its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, Broadcast Signal Intrusion, written by Tim Woodall & Phil Drinkwater, stars Harry Shum Jr. (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), Kelley Mack (The Walking Dead), and Chris Sullivan (Stranger Things). The videos themselves are practically a character in the film also, sprung up from the dimmest corners of the dark web with the sole purpose to terrorize your psyche. For simplicity’s sake, below is a little vision board (of sorts) to help you visualize the tapes in question, including a photo from the unsolved Max Headroom Signal Hijacking of 1987 that inspired the film, a still from John Erick Dowdle’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and another from Milos Mitrovic & Conor Sweeney’s Homer_A (2017).
James (Harry Shum Jr) has been working the night shift digitizing old broadcast tapes from the 1980s for a local television station in the days when online chat boards were as close to Snopes as you could get. While chipping away at a mountain of local news and forgotten tv shows, James stumbles across two unexplained amateur videos that he can’t make any sense of. Cutting into the live broadcast is a disturbing 30-second clip of what could easily be described as the prelude to a snuff film. No one is killed on screen, no one seems to be in immediate danger, but nothing about the clip feels safe. A distorted voice warbles in the background, digital noise fills the frame and before you can get a handle on what you’re looking at, the clip ends and the news is back on the air. Something about the tape grabs hold of James and he is unable to let go of the mystery. Who made this? What are they trying to say? And why has no one been able to uncover the identity of anyone involved?
No one seems to know anything about the mysterious broadcasts and every answer only raises more questions. The FCC and FBI have no leads and every other amateur sleuth consumed with the mysterious broadcasts have either gone mad or given up, but James has motivation unmatched by anyone before him. After discovering a pattern between the broadcast hijackings and the disappearance of local women, James becomes convinced that whoever is responsible for these tapes might also be responsible for the disappearance of his late wife.
“Not enough good can be said about the titular broadcast signal intrusions and their hallucinatory cousins. They are never not nightmarish”
There’s something deeply unnerving about amateurish shot-on-video stuff that sends chills through me immediately. Especially when it comes at you with no context. We don’t realize how much Hollywood films have trained our brains until we see something that breaks all rules of perspective or blocking, or what-have-you. Suddenly you’re on high alert because anything could happen and you no longer feel safe. I think that’s partly what makes Found Footage so effective but Found Footage movies are still “movies”. Movies have stories to tell and stories have structure, but anyone with a camera can point and shoot whatever they damn well please. Filming something is always a purposeful act but sometimes it’s best to keep your curiosity at bay. No mystery is worth solving if it means you unravel yourself in the process too.
Sadly, Broadcast Signal Intrusion never dives into the deep end of the psychological pool enough for me. Not because I think it needed to be headier like the aforementioned Videodrome but because it teases a dangerous, possibly ethereal realm that never comes in the way you expect. The trappings of those heightened horrors are there but they take a back seat to investigatory obsessions that are as effective as David Fincher’s Zodiac but less essential to this specific story. But not enough good can be said about the titular broadcast signal intrusions and their hallucinatory cousins. They are never not nightmarish and they also provide one of the most satisfying smash cuts in recent memory. It’s an obsessive mystery that unravels in its own way and an impressive adaptation of a real-life riddle that has, no doubt, pulled people into similar destructive spirals. Thank god, with this new age of the internet ever thing is finally cut and dry, and there are no rabbit holes for us to fall down into anymore.
“Sadly, Broadcast Signal Intrusion never dives into the deep end of the psychological pool enough for me.”
Jacob Gentry’s Broadcast Signal Intrusion celebrated its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know if you’re excited to check out this creepy analog horror over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.