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Broadcast Signal Intrusion review: Harry Shum Jr. leads a fun but messy suspenseful noir [SXSW 2021]

Harry Shum Jr. as James in Broadcast Signal Intrusion
Harry Shum Jr. as James in Broadcast Signal Intrusion. Pic credit: Queensbury Pictures

Broadcast Signal Intrusion begins on a disturbing and mysterious note and maintains an addictive narrative throughout.

Imagine this. A video feed invading one’s broadcast with images of persons acting robotic and wearing a skinlike mask yelling in gibberish audio. Take the most disturbing moment in Possessor where one character is wearing the face of someone else and make the image interrupt a television program.

Why is this happening? Who is doing it? That’s the driving question of Broadcast Signal Intrusion’s mystery.

Is it worth watching? Here is our full review for Broadcast Signal Intrusion at SXSW 2021.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion review

Set in the 90s, the story centers on James (Harry Shum Jr.), a video archivist who repairs camcorders on his downtime, stumbles across a very disturbing broadcast.

The broadcast interruption is definitely unsettling showing what appears to be a robot wearing fake human skin on its face (or is it?). Adding to the creep-factor, it plays like the VHS tape from The Ring showing various forms of robot skin face screaming and saying words in distortion — and sometimes with liquid coming out its mouth.

James also had a girlfriend named Hannah who disappeared without a trace. And when his interest in these strange broadcasts grows, he suddenly finds strange connections between her disappearance and the tapes.

What viewers need to know is while Broadcast Signal Intrusion has horror elements, the majority of the film plays like a detective noir. For some, that will be disappointing, but for the rest of us, it makes the film a lot of fun. And this writer has a weakness for anything presented in the style of noir.

James runs from lead-to-lead trying to uncover who is doing these broadcasts and deciphering the puzzles within them, all while trying to decide who to trust. And it’s an absolutely entertaining journey director Jacob Gentry takes us on.

Harry Shum Jr. at E! People's Choice Awards
Harry Shum Jr. at E! People’s Choice Awards. Pic credit: ©ImageCollect.com/Birdie Thompson/AdMedia

Most of the film’s entertaining journey is due to the extremely charismatic Harry Shum Jr. He is absolutely a leading man and carries the experience effortlessly. If the guy does not receive more phone calls from Hollywood after this, then it’s a mystery to think what it will take.

Cinematographer Scott Thiele photographs the film quite well giving it an aesthetic that is reminiscent of some of the best Japanese horror. Several shots in this film brought back memories of watching Ringu and Ju-On, both of these movies had compelling mysteries within the horror.

But what is nice about Broadcast Signal Intrusion’s camera work and direction, is that it does not rely on predictable jump scares. It does not get quiet with the intention of setting up a loud noise or use obnoxious tactics like a cat jumping out of a locker to make viewers fly off their couch.

Sometimes the camera will lock in place while a character enters a dark room to make us think an event might happen or focus on an area a little too long to make us wonder why it’s doing so. And the intention is to make us tense at times and to build paranoia in various moments. To make us feel watched or unsafe as James himself feels.

That said, upon first viewing, it’s unclear if everything in this story works. It’s also unclear whether this writer completely understood everything by the time Broadcast Signal Intrusion reached its endpoint.

What can be said, is everyone involved made it creepy enough that it was hard to hate it. It’s a messy finish but somehow they made the finale an extremely entertaining mess. And if they are going to deliver a speed bump finish, might as well hit the gas hard and watch that sucker fly.

The finale thrown aside, Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a nice healthy balance of suspense noir with a splash of horror. This is going to be one of those films that genre fans will love to bite into, regardless of its flaws.

Plus, the horror visuals might be few and far between but they will stick with viewers when the movie ends. Gentry is clearly inspired by David Cronenberg here and the visual aesthetic of the recordings is nightmare fuel.

Overall Thoughts

Broadcast Signal Intrusion may not have the perfect landing but it’s a confident flight for director Jacob Gentry. The movie is more of a noir than a horror film but the mixture of both is at the appropriate amount for the story.

Between the compelling mystery and the solid casting of Harry Shum Jr. as the lead, Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a lot of fun.

If viewers have a weakness for detective noir-type stories, this is worth a watch. The horror elements are just the cherry on top of an already delicious cinematic sundae.

If readers like this review, be sure and check out our other reviews from SXSW, including Islands and Executive Order.

Stay tuned for more SXSW 2021 coverage at Monsters & Critics.

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