Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021)

Quick Synopsis: In the late 1990s, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the conspiracy behind them.

To start, I should clarify the title, it refers to when someone hijacks a television or radio signal to broadcast something. So when I refer to an intrusion, that’s what I mean. For a real life instance of it, look up the Max Headroom incident. I mentioned that to both explain the concept of signal intrusions, and also to explain the “Max Headf*ck” excerpt I used. It wasn’t just me being crude, it was actually a super pretentious reference.

That’s not better is it?

These reviews are personal opinion. They always have been, and I’ve made no attempt to hide or deny that. That’s why some films which aren’t technically great get worse reviews than others. It’s why stuff like Table 19 (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%) receives a more positive review than Don’t Breathe (Rotten Tomatoes: 88%). There are some films which I just don’t gel with. Movies are all about preference, there’s no point in me recommending a film to someone if I know they won’t like it, just because “it’s directed really well”. I say all of that to preface this: there are some people who absolutely love this film and consider it one of the best horror films of the year, but I’m not among those people.

I get what the film is going for, and it has moments of true greatness. Everybody involved is obviously incredibly talented, it does a lot of things better than most horror films. I particularly like how it displays the film title on colour bars on-screen within the film. I don’t know why but I like when films make the title card exist within the film itself. I’m also a fan of how it used sound, particularly in the intrusions themselves, where there’s almost a wall of sound that the audience is banging its head against. The intrusions themselves are genuinely creepy and disturbing, which is always good. This film also creates a really compelling story and mystery that you want to find out.

That’s where it let me down. It is so concerned with being mysterious and asking questions, that it doesn’t answer those questions. You can get away with that if it’s a weird and esoteric film, but this is mostly normal (with the exception of intrusions). If it went into weirdness more then the lack of a cohesive narrative would have been acceptable. I’ll clarify what I mean by “lack of cohesive narrative”, it’s possible to describe this plot in a way that makes sense, but it involves missing out on a lot of the details. Details like “who made that phone call?”, “Where did that character go?” etc. So the synopsis makes sense, but the plot does not. I know some people like mystery, and I do at times, but not when it’s like this. Mysteries should enhance a film, not be used as an excuse to not answer questions. I recently watched the rerelease of the classic John Carpenter version of The Thing. That ends with an unanswered question: are both the characters still human? That’s a question that people have discussed for years. But if the film started with that question, and had a spooky voice stop the characters from making progress in answering it, then it would be annoying.

It’s not helped by how reminiscent it is of last year’s Censor. It’s not close enough that it feels like the same movie, but it is close enough that comparisons are inevitable. It’s a bit like someone took the script of Censor, played Chinese Whispers with it, and then made a film of the resultant script. It’s bad luck as I think they were developed around the same time, so there’s no way they influenced each other, it’s just bad timing on my part to have seen that first. I do feel bad about comparing the two, but I think part of that is due to how disappointed I am with this film in general. I love the unique idea of it, and the performances are all fantastic. Harry Shum Jr will get the plaudits, and rightfully so, but I feel you can’t ignore how talented Kelley Mack and Jennifer Jelsema are when they’re on screen. Mack, in particular, has a very bright future if she can pull off more performances like this. That’s what this film is to me, a possible footnote in a future favourite film. Jacob Gentry directs it wonderfully, and his choice of jazz music for a lot of it instead of a more traditional horror movie score is inspired.

If you’re a fan of more esoteric, dreamlike cinema, then you’ll appreciate this. If you prefer more straightforward watching, then I’d say avoid this as you’ll find it frustrating.

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