- Gareth Crook
Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021) - 6/10
Now this doesn’t get many good reviews and it’s a bit low budget, but it makes a lot of its limitations and I do love a bit of quirky independent cinema. In fact I’d rather that that some megawatt marvel franchise rubbish any day. Plus this eerie thriller’s plot ticks my box. James (Harry Shum Jr.) is a tape archivist, in the 90s… obviously. 1999 to be precise, in Chicago. He’s a precise kinda person. Messy but precise, if that makes any sense. Making sense might take a while here. It’s purposefully dreamy. James seems haunted by a memory, one caught on some old footage. He’s lost someone. Tape archives are eerie places, they look great on camera and old tape equipment looks great too, lots of buttons to push, digital displays, stuff loading in and out. It gives the editor endless opportunities to cut and set the pace, the tone, as James works the night shift, transferring and digitising all manner of unimportant stuff. That was the thing about the death of tape. Everyone was concerned about the loss of the footage as equipment became obsolete. It needed to be saved. The truth is it was always a dodgy medium and lends itself to psychological thrillers like this perfectly. There’s no surprise when the tapes James is viewing, start to break down in static and reveal a freaky animatronic face with dead eyes and a glitchy mysterious audio track. Alright it’s a bit tropey, but bear with me. All the tape stuff doesn’t work without some context. James is pretty much alone in his world, trying to figure things out. Particularly around a sci-fi programme that gets mentioned on one of the newsreels he’s watching. From someone who works the day shift who signs post-it notes as ‘L’, he learns that what he’s witnessed is a broadcast intrusion and he, rather inexplicably decides he wants to get to the bottom of it. Searching for a missing tape, through creepy beta-max loving geeks and endless scrolling bulletin boards. It’s a bit X-files or maybe Archive 81 is a better reference, although that does get a bit more supernatural. Here though it starts a bit more mundane. It’s it just a prank? Subliminal messaging? The public needing to be protected, we’re in the era of video nasties after all. These facts are all fine, but it’s James’ unspoken issues that seem to drag him in further. Well that and his ability to play tapes backward very slowly. Before long James connects his personal loss to the broadcast intrusions and off we go. It looks pretty slick. Grimy with some great locations. There’s some good score too, dissident horns and twinkly percussion. The acting is passable, but Shun is good. The story is generally solid, but does get a bit fluffy and televisual in spots. The introduction of Alice (Kelley Mack) switches things up a bit. It takes all the pressure off James, with now having a co-conspirator to add things to his crime investigation wall. It’s fun, a bit twisty chase through clues and leads, with lots of retro tech, dust and muted colours. It’s not overly original but it deserves better reviews than it’s got. That said, it’s the chase that’s the fun bit. As we’re near it’s conclusion it does unravel a bit. James’ mad obsession influencing the screen perhaps a bit too much and there’s far too many threads that don’t go anywhere. It feels with a little more work this could’ve been really great, but it’s still enjoyable.