A disappointing ending undermines this tense and unnerving thriller
Set in 1999, the era when Blockbusters was still open to the public and VHS tapes were still in circulation, Broadcast Signal Intrusion tells the story of James, a young man whose wife disappeared several years previously.
We don’t quite know what happened to his wife but her vanishing is the catalyst for the quest that obsesses him during the course of this strange and tense thriller.
James’ line of work involves cataloguing video cassettes of old TV broadcasts, a job that would delight anybody with a love of classic (and not so classic) television shows. But when he discovers one of the broadcast signals had been hacked into (a broadcast signal intrusion) with some disturbing footage, he is plunged into a nightmare that becomes all-consuming for him.
James thinks the broadcast hacker is behind the disappearance of several women who vanished during the 1980s. He believes this because the video footage contains images of strangely-masked women who could be the victims of an abduction. In his quest to discover the truth behind these pirate broadcasts, he finds other videotapes that feature female mask wearers and discovers various links to the women who went missing a decade earlier.
It can be assumed that James believes the videotapes hold clues about his missing wife, although this isn’t spelt out to us during the movie’s run. Of course, it might also be that he gets involved in the case (without handing it over to the police) because it’s his way of managing his feelings of loss. But whatever the case might be, as he journeys down the rabbit hole of video pirates and stolen TV signals, so do we, and there is a real sense of terror that emerges as he gets closer to the truth.
This isn’t the first time that director Jacob Gentry has delivered an unnerving film about mysterious transmissions. He previously gave us The Signal, a 2007 film about people who were turned into killers after tuning in to a signal that emanated from their cell phones and televisions.
That horror tale was quite chilling and the same can be said of Broadcast Signal Intrusion due to Gentry’s skill at disturbing us through the horrific-looking images and unsettling sounds that are featured on the pirated footage.
Unfortunately, the film isn’t as effective as it could have been. It features a subplot about a woman named Alice who, for reasons of personal pleasure, decides to stalk James as he carries out his mission. She then joins him during his investigation as she has the research skills that James needs to crack the case. Her involvement in the plot is interesting but when she disappears without explanation, things get a little bit confusing.
Another issue is the film’s ending. Before the climax, there is a resolution of sorts as James finally uncovers the mystery behind the missing women and the signal intrusions. If the story had ended there, the conclusion would have been far more gratifying.
Instead, the film continues to follow James after his work has been done and it then ends with a scene that makes very little sense. The abstract nature of the film’s epilogue is quite frustrating although it might be that this is another puzzle to solve.
Despite my misgivings about the film’s plotting, there is still a lot to like here, from the jazz-infused soundtrack to the committed playing of Harry Shum Jr. (Love Hard), who stars as the obsessed loner who tries to unravel the mystery of the affected video tapes. As James journeys on his hunt for the truth, the mystery is genuinely involving, and the overall sense of menace that exists throughout is enough to rattle our senses.
It’s just a shame that Broadcast Signal Intrusion ends in the way it does but despite the odd conclusion, the film isn’t completely unrewarding. If you’re a collector of video technology from the 90s or are knowledgeable about the signal hacking that is at the core of this bizarre tale, you will probably get a lot from this. You might also like the film if you’re somebody who argued with your friends over the merits of Betamax over VHS as there is a passing allusion to that age-old discussion here.
Ultimately then, there is a lot of good in this film, despite the hazy ending, so if you have a Shudder subscription, you might want to follow James down the rabbit hole. Just remember to dig yourself out at the end though, otherwise you might get as obsessed as our protagonist does about broadcast intrusions!
Read More: Broadcast Signal Intrusion Ending Explained
Verdict - 6.5/10