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broadcast signal intrusion review
A video archivist becomes obsessed with the idea that a series of TV broadcast hacks are connected with his wife's disappearance.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jacob Gentry

Starring: Harry Shum Jr., Kelley Mack, Justin Welborn, Michael B. Woods, Jennifer Jelsema

broadcast signal intrusion poster

Director Jacob Gentry's conspiracy (or is it?) thriller Broadcast Signal Intrusion is set in 1999 and takes us back to that brief era of paranoia and uncertainty in the years leading up to the dawn of the new millennium. Remember the panic over the millennium bug, with lots of smart people telling us that technology would shit the bed because computers didn't understand how to adjust their in-built clocks? There was a sense that even if the world didn't end, the new millennium would bring an era of darkness, an idea exploited by numerous serial killer movies and the aptly named X-Files spin-off Millennium.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion review

That uncertain era is where we find our hero, James (Harry Shum Jr). Three years after the mysterious disappearance of his wife, James works nights alone in a basement archiving old TV broadcasts onto discs for posterity. One night while copying a broadcast from TV he's shocked to come across a rare "Broadcast Signal Intrusion" – a 1987 edition of a chat show is interrupted by hackers who screen some brief but unsettling images of what appears to be a woman wearing a white mask while odd tones play on the soundtrack.

James becomes obsessed with this discovery, and research leads him to find that there was a similar hack that same year. A meeting with a professor who warns him to give up his investigation for his physical safety only encourages James to go further down the rabbit hole. He becomes aware of a third hack, broadcast the night after his wife disappeared. When he learns that the two previous hacks also followed still unsolved disappearances of women, James becomes convinced that they have a connection to his wife's unexplained vanishing. With the aid of Alice (Kelley Mack), a streetwise young woman, he sets out to find the people responsible.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion review

Visually, Broadcast Signal Intrusion does a wonderful job of capturing the look of late '90s thrillers. With its shadowy basements and ineffectual lamps, it has the look of some lost David Fincher movie from 1999. Ben Lovett's trumpet-heavy score adds greatly to the noir ambience as Gentry mines tension from our protagonist's ignorance of just what he's gotten himself into. There's a scene in a basement involving an unexplained noise from upstairs that is positively skin-crawling, and it's reflective of how much terror Gentry manages to wring out of ambiguity.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion might be dismissed as overly nostalgic, but it's knowingly so and it uses our familiarity with the tropes of conspiracy thrillers to keep us on edge. As such, every interaction James has with another character causes us to question their motivations. Eventually we begin to wonder if maybe we're being overly paranoid, that perhaps we've seen too many movies like Broadcast Signal Intrusion. Perhaps James has seen too many movies like this and is making a big deal out of what could well be no more than a prank played by some over-educated tech geek with time on their hands.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion review

Thanks to endearing performances from Shum Jr and Mack, exploring this shadowy world with James and Alice is as fun as it is nerve-wracking. They have the playful repartee of the hero and heroine of an early British Hitchcock thriller. At one point Alice queries James about his hobbies, and after much pondering he's forced to admit that he essentially has no life of his own. His adventure with Alice down the rabbit… (wait a minute, I see what you did there movie!) hole is just what he needs to shake him out of his rut, even if it leads to a dead end or to his own demise.

Unfortunately, after keeping us gripped for 80 minutes, Broadcast Signal Intrusion sputters to an unsatisfying conclusion that may well sour a lot of viewers on the overall movie. Even if it ultimately leads nowhere of note, Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a mystery worth investigating for fans of conspiracy thrillers.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion
 is on Shudder UK now.