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‘Transmission’ review: Dir. Michael Hurst [FrightFest 2023]

Writer and director Michael Hurst has brought his experimental channel-surfing movie, Transmission, to Pigeon Shrine FrightFest. Part found-footage, part screen life (wherein the screen is a television) the story is pieced together via clips of various late night television shows and films.

Transmission opens with text announcing that the film that follows is real. Years ago in Santa Mira, something happened on every TV screen. One man was watching, flipping between channels and the clips and programmes within Transmission are what he saw. On paper the late night television channel hopping sounds like a very wacky method of storytelling. In reality it is a tightly constructed, layered jigsaw in which, initially at least, all the pieces appear to be from a different puzzle. As Transmission progresses, its shape begins to take form. As the bigger picture is revealed, the real magic of Hurst’s film is unveiled. What begins as a jumble becomes a linear story told via several differing settings. It is an exceptionally clever idea that gives the viewer a proper sense of satisfaction as they realise how each element interconnects. 

It is not just the interconnection of the overarching story that works in Transmission. Each individual programme, film, and advert seen on screen has been meticulously planned out. Not only so that the main narrative intercuts seamlessly, but also to appear as familiar fixtures of late night TV. During the course of Transmission the viewer switches, with varying levels of frequency, between a late night science-fiction film also named ‘Transmission’, a teen rom-com called ‘Nutball’, a documentary about film director Franklin T Roth, a television Evangelist, a children’s puppet show, and a breaking news report about a home invasion turned hostage situation. These are exactly the types of shows that are programmed for the insomniacs, new parents, and others awake in the dead of night. Hurst’s attention to detail within each component is to be applauded. 

Some filmmakers struggle to mimic one style or format of film or show, but here Hurst attempts several and pulls all off with aplomb. The sci-fi film looks and acts exactly like a cheesy science-fiction movie. Quite what its main plot is remains unclear as everytime it is switched onto it appears to be channelling a different popular sci-fi movie. This is the precise problem with a lot of low budget science-fiction movies so the viewer is content to go along with it. The documentary constantly reveals interesting facts about its subject. Similarly, the news report also looks authentic. Nutball is an homage to a variety of eighties and nineties comedies offering a respite from the more troubling elements, though it too eventually connects. The Evangelist ads are fleeting, but help sell the time of day, and the puppet show echoes the audience’s thoughts whilst dressed to look like a budget Sesame Street.

The interconnectivity of all of these sections is highly cerebral and the viewer will have to fully engage to get the reward of the full story. This is the type of narrative that comes together slowly, rather than all at once; viewers will begin to connect the dots at different points based on how attentive they are. For those really lost, the puppet segment does an excellent job of highlighting exactly when a ‘clue’ is going to drop. Although featured less than other sections (only the Evangelist sermon getting less screen time), it is the puppet show that properly helps tie everything together. Without it, Transmission still loosely assembles, but the inclusion of the kid’s show is what makes the feature feel whole. 

With no traditional method of storytelling, Hurst relies on the speed of the channel hopping to set the pace. To begin with, the clips are longer, the fictional viewer of the broadcast giving several of the shows a chance to outright win him over. With no winner crowned, he instead rotates between them, landing on each one again for varying amounts of time. This brings a calm and gentle pace as Hurst allows each segment to convey the key information it needs to. Once settled, the flicking becomes more frantic until, as the conclusion approaches, it is almost just flashes of each channel. This helps generate the sensation of building up to something big when the shows themselves may only be part way through. 

Experimental storytelling at its finest, Transmission strength of cohesion must have caused Hurst plenty of sleepless nights. His dedication to the intricate narrative structure is rewarded by complete audience satisfaction. Whilst the opening few moments feel alien and may daunt some viewers, Transmission, like late-night TV, sucks the viewer in and the end payoff is highly worth the investment.  


Kat Hughes



In Transmission writer and director Michael Hurst has created an intricate and elegant story that will mesmerise and befuddle the viewer before revealing its hidden secrets and granting excellent viewer satisfaction.


Transmission was reviewed at Pigeon Shrine FrightFest 2023. 

Kat Hughes is a UK born film critic and interviewer who has a passion for horror films. An editor for THN, Kat is also a Rotten Tomatoes Approved Critic. She has bylines with Ghouls Magazine, Arrow Video, Film Stories, Certified Forgotten and FILMHOUNDS and has had essays published in home entertainment releases by Vinegar Syndrome and Second Sight. When not writing about horror, Kat hosts micro podcast Movies with Mummy along with her five-year-old daughter.


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