A broadcast signal intrusion is a real-life event in which a group of people, or an organisation, hijack the broadcast signals of radio, television, or satellite signals. They’ve happened on and off for decades and now form the inspiration for Jacob Gentry’s Broadcast Signal Intrusion. Inspired by a spate of genuine, and still unsolved, broadcast interruptions that occurred in Chicago during the late eighties, the film follows driven young man James (Harry Shum Jr) as his obsession for the truth behind them takes him to the brink of madness. The film began life as part of FrightFest’s New Blood initiative, a cinematic programme created to support and nurture burgeoning genre voices, and in Broadcast Signal Intrusion they have found a rather mysterious one in Jacob Gentry.
Gentry and his writing team of Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall have pain-stakingly crafted a story that is packed full of mystifying intrigue. Drip-feeding the audience tidbits of information in-between a raft of misdirection and red herrings, whilst keeping the viewer engaged, is no easy task, but the work here really pays off. Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a film that distinctly embraces its more puzzling aspects and offers plenty for the viewer to sink their teeth into. Much like our protagonist James, the audience is swept away and consumed by the strong desire to get to the bottom of these sinister intrusions that may, or may not, have anything to do with James’ missing spouse. Broadcast Signal Intrusion further reinforces its mysterious side by playing heavily into conventions of the classic Film Noir. The story is suitably enigmatic with an effective technological spin to bring it a little more up to date, but it is in the aesthetics that the film most closely identifies with the vintage genre. All the locations are steeped in dark and moody lighting, the camera never giving away more that it has too, shrouding everything in an air of mystique. The brass-heavy score further works to code the film as noir, the almost jazzy dancing of notes injecting some much needed life and lightness into proceedings.
This is a modest budget film; Gentry skirts some of the obvious constraints by relocating the story from the present to the distant past. Playing out during the nineties, and investigating a phenomena that happened in the eighties, means that Gentry can capitalise on old tech rather than new. Were the same story to be told within modern times, James would need banks of modern computers and more for his research to take place. Instead he lives surrounded by VHS and Betamax machines, and communicates with sources via clunky green-text consoles and old-fashioned landline phones. The shift in time also creates a distance from our current world and helps the viewer fully invest in the story rather than nit-pick about not using mobile phones when in trouble etc.
An interesting blend of science-fiction and film noir, Broadcast Signal Intrusion embraces its enigmatic elements, drawing the viewer into a very entertaining investigation, where nothing is ever quite what it seems.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion was reviewed at SXSW Festival 2021.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion
Despite its historic setting, Broadcast Signal Intrusion offers a refreshingly new spin on the classic mystery format.