Review: ‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion’ extracts suspense from retro video pranks

A scowling young man in the movie “Broadcast Signal Intrusion”
Harry Shum Jr. in “Broadcast Signal Intrusion.”
(Dark Sky Films)

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Throughout the 1980s, TV viewers reported multiple cases of broadcasts and cablecasts being interrupted for a minute or two by mysterious mischief-makers, interjecting with sometimes disturbing and surreal messages. In “Broadcast Signal Intrusion,” director Jacob Gentry and screenwriters Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall turn those half-forgotten pranks into a creepy mystery, which several obsessed characters go mad trying to unravel.

Harry Shum Jr. stars as James, a video archivist. While logging an old tape of a local public affairs program, James sees a masked figure break into the broadcast for a few seconds, making jittery movements and abrasive noises. Asking around about the incident, he learns this same weirdo hijacked a few other Chicago-area broadcasts in the ’80s. Suspecting something sinister, he sets out to determine who was responsible.

“Broadcast Signal Intrusion” takes place in the late 1990s, at a time when the internet was widely available but not especially helpful to someone looking for specific facts. While researching the pirate telecasts, James relies on bulletin boards filled with sketchy information and conspiracy theories. As he chases down a few of the wilder leads, James realizes — with mounting dread — that everyone else who has investigated this phenomenon has fallen into frustrated despair.


Setting this particular story in the ’90s adds to its overall air of uncertainty. James — who’s also coping with a recent inexplicable personal loss, and hoping this new project will bring him some closure — is able to figure out just enough to convince himself that he’s on the right track. But he lacks the technology or connections to be absolutely sure.

As long as “Broadcast Signal Intrusion” stays in the realm of shadowy ambiguity, it’s effectively suspenseful. Special credit goes to Ben Lovett’s mood-setting score, which is properly atmospheric but also more richly orchestrated than is the norm for modern genre films. The lush music makes a quixotic quest seem somehow more significant.

The film runs out of steam down the stretch as the filmmakers try to offer some firm answers — while still suggesting that James may be so desperate for the truth that he’s become delusional. Like the real-life events that inspired it, “Broadcast Signal Intrusion” is most thrilling when it’s at its vaguest — like a juicy rumor that’s impossible to confirm.

'Broadcast Signal Intrusion'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 22, Laemmle Glendale; also on digital and VOD