Sometimes the eeriest horror movies of all are the ones inspired by real-life events. SXSW horror/thriller Broadcast Signal Intrusion is based off actual broadcast interruptions that occurred in the late 80’s in Chicago, and still remain unsolved. The film takes place in Chicago circa 1999, and right from the start, it presents us with a haunting, nightmarish image: across a field, we glimpse a strange masked figure from behind. This becomes a recurring motif throughout—a white mask with small eyeholes, and jet-black hair. Director Jacob Gentry delivers a creepy, vintage atmosphere to go with the oddball visuals. The mystery angle of the script rarely provides the answers you’re expecting .
James (Glee’s Harry Shum Jr. in an excellent lead role) is a video archivist logging tapes of ancient TV broadcasts. He stumbles upon something truly bizarre, a seemingly random interruption over one of the TV programs: someone wearing a mask emulating Sal-E Sparx, an android from an old TV show, set to bizarre noise, screaming, and static. What he’s seeing doesn’t seem to make any logical sense. James struggles to comprehend the meaning behind the tape, and when a clear pattern emerges, he gets closer and closer to uncovering a potentially sinister truth.
In true 90s fashion, James gets most of his answers from shady chatrooms. It’s not long before he makes a literal conspiracy board, trying to trace the broadcast intrusions. We’ve seen this manic stop-at-nothing mentality in many leads throughout horror. Sinister is the first one that comes to mind, though this movie feels more similar to 1993’s The Vanishing. Broadcast Signal Intrusion does little in this department to break the mold. Harry Shum Jr. is so much fun to watch, as he works to unravel the mystery no one else has been able to crack. I’ve never seen him in a role even remotely similar to this one, and it’s a promising genre debut.
The film loses steam a bit in the second act, where a couple of the reveals don’t feel as satisfying as they should. Just when I thought I knew exactly how the movie would wrap up, I was proven very wrong. The final act is full of surprises that make up for a slower midsection. There’s a great build-up to the climax, and a robbery of catharsis that packs a punch. I don’t think the film answers many of its broader questions, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a great time going along for the journey. Watching in the dead of night, the sense of dread I felt following James was palpable. The only thing that could make Broadcast Signal Intrusion any creepier would be if you watched it on VHS in a dark basement.