Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Broadcast Signal Intrusion

Truth Or Air

Broadcast Signal Intrusion
USA 2021
Directed by Jacob Gentry
Queensbury Pictures

Warning: Slight spoilers.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion is an expansion of a short film which was written and directed by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall (who wrote this feature length version), which was inherited, for whatever reason, to be directed by Jacob Gentry. I’ve not seen the short myself but, seeing as this film raises more questions than it answers, it’ll be interesting to see this now in case it gives anymore closure than this longer version.

I’d like to be all neat and tidy and say that the film is a horror film but, honestly, I’m really not sure that it is, since the necessary information, to my mind, to be able to properly ascertain its possible inclusion in that genre description is very much among the many unanswered questions set up by it’s genuinely intriguing plot. I would go as far as to say that there may be an element of, perhaps, mad scientist science fiction, bordering on horror, for the last 20 seconds or so of the movie but, given the content of that admittedly interesting ending, I think it’s fairly ambiguous at best.

The film stars Harry Shum Jr. as James, a man working nights for a video archiving company, transferring gazillions of broadcast television tapes onto digital discs... and it’s set in 1999. He lives alone because his wife has gone missing, presumed dead, a few years before and so he attends regular weekly meetings of a counselling group for people who have also lost their significant others. He even has the date of her disappearance tattooed on his wrist.

He has started having some unusual dreams of late, especially regarding his late/missing wife where he is filming her and when she turns around she has a kind of flat, blobby, rubbery mask with dead eyes where her face should be. Then, one night when he is transferring tapes onto disc, he sees a broadcast signal intrusion (over here in the UK I think they’re more commonly referred to as pirate broadcasts, which somehow manage to hijack the airwaves and beam something else collectively into people’s homes before the station is able to shut them down) with disturbing imagery and sound design, populated by a person wearing the exact same kind of rubbery face that his wife was wearing in his dreams.

And then it becomes a rabbit hole movie, as we follow James down into a plot which leads him to finding that there have been three of these specific intrusions on the air and that they’re almost impossible to track down due to the FBI confiscating everything related to the case. But old message boards are alight with people trying to find out more and after a while he realises that, in each case, a woman went missing the day before each intrusion (well, okay, probably many people go missing every day but it feels more credible in the film) and that the third and final signal was put out on cable the day after his wife went missing.

And it does what rabbit hole films such as Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up or Francis Ford Coppolla’s The Conversation (or even Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, at a push) do, which is to lead the viewer on a merry path down the same route with various, more puzzling questions raised at every turn, deepening the mystery at the films heart and gripping the audience tighter as it does so.

And it does so quite skillfully. Playing out sequences which, as interesting as they are, seem to go nowhere and do nothing other than hint that something mysterious is going on... but, you know, I kinda enjoyed it. There are some nice visual moments in the film too... the director is not afraid to section off shots with verticals but then leave vast areas of the screen in darkness to pull the eye into a certain part of the frame. There’s a nice split screen sequence which shows James looking into the direction of the camera (at the computer) on the left of the screen and, on the right split, the contents of that screen... with the director finishing that sequence by zooming out of both screens at the same speed. He also likes to do things like pick out details in close up (such as lighting the tip of a cigarette... not a new approach but still nice to look at) and he has a cool montage shot where the aisles of a video library are side on and we see James going through each aisle as a growing time composite, as he is added to each aisle simultaneous to the aisles he is already searching in.

The film also has an outstanding score by Ben Lovett which captures a kind of late 1940s/early 1950s film noir vibe and runs with it, injecting less harmonic music at certain intervals as James sinks deeper into the mystery and, on screen, slow moving dutch angles are used to reflect his inner turmoil.

The film gets darker as it wears on and then, in literally the last twenty seconds, when you think you may have a handle on things... something else happens. And I’m not going to tell you what but it did remind me of that famous, complete non-sequitur of a shot of the ‘mad puppet’ from Dario Argento’s Deep Red. It’s almost like he wanted to see what would happen if he added that kind of level of bizarre shenanigans at the end of a movie. This completely throws out the notion that any of the main characters in the film, not to mention the audience, have any idea of what is really going on... and I suspect that was the idea. I get the feeling that various ‘clues’ in the movie, such as when James and a woman who is helping him with his enquiries for a certain part of the film (played by Kelley Mack) go visit the man who helped make the broadcasts happen and they hear... ‘things’... happening off screen and upstairs, don’t have a specific solution to them. Things that they, nor again the audience, are liable to find out about anytime before the end of the movie. Or why the burned out guy, who has been on James’ path before, also trying to solve the mystery of the signals, slashes his own throat in front of James and his new friend.

It’s all very mysterious and, I suspect, rendered deliberately impenetrable and undecipherable, much like the intrusions themselves... but, again, the mystery element is also what keeps you watching so I can’t complain too bitterly by the lack of closure. I liked Broadcast Signal Intrusion a lot and I’d definitely watch this one again sometime... just not too soon after my first viewing.

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