In November of 1987, TV signals were hijacked by an unknown hacker in a rubber mask. The first, a short broadcast during the news featured someone in a Max Headroom mask swaying, with strange noises. He returned a few hours later, during a rerun of Doctor Who. This time making bizarre references to everything from Coca-Cola to WGN. To this day the “Max Headroom signal hijacking” remains unsolved. Who did it? Why? What does it all mean?
These questions plague James (Harry Shum Jr.) in Broadcast Signal Intrusion. Working as a video archivist in 1999 Chicago, he stumbles across a similar signal hijacking. As he investigates, he begins to discover the conspiracy behind them, which may help solve the mystery of his wife’s disappearance…
James lives a lonely life since the disappearance of his wife Hanna. He spends his days watching old home videos of her, and attending a support group, while his nights are spent archiving videos. He lives alone and rarely interacts with the group, his only real interaction being with his boss via post-it notes they leave each other. While archiving, he comes across a signal hijacking, and becomes obsessed, needing answers.
The film does an excellent job of evoking the nineties. From the tech and fashion, down to the chunky clicks and tones that the computers and video players make. It sets the tone well, with even scenes set outside in the day, seeming gloomy. Some scenes are lit by nothing but the computer monitor. The signal interruptions themselves are suitably strange, with a creepy mask, weird noises and echoes of the videos made by Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. It’s the perfect amount of creepy and intriguing, with plenty of elements for the audience to dive into and interpret themselves. Fans of Censor and Archive 81 will feel right at home.
We Interrupt This Broadcast
The film does a good job of drip-feeding information at a good pace but does fall into a trap of many scenes just being exposition sometimes. The mystery itself is compelling, with plenty of twists and turns thrown in. The side characters are all distinct, with most having their own motivations for helping or warning James. Some of these characters get more development than others, with most only having a handful of scenes, as the focus is on James and the tapes. The dialogue between them can be clunky at times, but never enough to be distracting
Although the film follows a compelling mystery, not everything is fully explained. This will likely be divisive for audiences, as it does seem as though answers are likely towards the end. While there is plenty of information to piece together individual theories, there is little that is concrete or definitive. Some characters are deliberately vague or offer a conflicting account to another. Sometimes the answers given do not fit with what James already knows, raising further questions. In that sense the film gets you inside its main character’s head. Everything is filtered through his perspective, and the question of how reliable a point of view James can be is for the audience to decide.
Rating: (3.5 / 5)
Offering a lovingly recreated 90’s world and a compelling mystery based on real-life, Broadcast Signal Intrusion offers more questions than it answers, but shows the way people hold on to any hope after grief, however small. While some may find its lack of clear answers unsatisfying, others will enjoy the lack of them and the untrustworthy nature of those who give them. Like the tapes themselves, it’s the small details that make this so interesting.