Broadcast Signal Intrusion [SXSW21]

“Some threads aren’t worth picking at.”

The term “broadcast signal intrusion” refers to the illegal hijacking of radio or television broadcast signals. The most notorious example of such an incident occured in Chicago, 1987, and is known as the Max Headroom signal hijacking. If you’re a fan of true crime and unsolved mysteries like I am, then this might sound familiar to you. On November 22nd, 1987, in Chicago, Illinois, the broadcast signals of two separate television stations were taken over by a still unidentified person wearing a Max Headroom costume. After the incident, many people of the public tried to uncover who the hijacker was, and what it all meant. Some people are still trying to answer these questions. Going into the SXSW premiere of Broadcast Signal Intrusion, I had no idea that this would be the basis of the film, but knowing the true mystery behind it made for a far more intriguing watch.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion is set in 1999 Chicago, and follows James, a VHS archivist still reeling from the death of his wife. After discovering an eerie broadcast hijacking on one of his old tapes, James becomes obsessed with uncovering the mystery behind it and its connection to a series of kidnapped women, which leads him down a rabbit hole of sinister conspiracies and dangerous leads. 

Harry Shum Jr. (Crazy Rich Asians, Glee) gives an intense performance as James. I was constantly curious to see how far he would go to solve the case, despite warnings to leave it alone. For the first half of the movie, I was also trying to determine whether or not there was actually something darker going on, or if it was just James trying to find some reasoning behind his wife’s death where there was none. It strengthens the mystery aspect, because not only are we watching James try to unravel the tapes, but we’re also trying to unravel his obsession with them. In the end, Broadcast Signal Intrusion only gives us some of the answers, which I’ll now discuss.

So if you don’t want SPOILERS for the ending, skip the next paragraph! 

After following the tapes and unravelling the web, James finally finds the person responsible for the signal intrusions. Despite hints that the man isn’t responsible for any of the abducted women, or the death of James’ wife, James forces him to confess to the crimes at gunpoint before murdering him, leaving us with an ambiguous ending. Was the hijacker a killer, or was James just trying to (literally) bury the mystery for the sake of his own closure? It’s up to you to decide. I thought this was a pretty haunting ending, and when you get down to it, the theme of the entire film. Sometimes things just don’t have answers, no matter how desperately we search for one.

All in all, I thought Broadcast Signal Intrusion was a well-crafted mystery with an incredible score reminiscent of classic noir thrillers. It’s possible that the biggest reason I enjoyed this so much, is because it reminded me of one of my favourite films of all time: Zodiac. From the directing, to the atmosphere, to the score, I found Broadcast Signal Intrusion to be very Fincher-esque. One scene in particular where James finds himself in a creepy basement and hears footsteps in the house above seemed to be pulled straight out of Zodiac. Either way, Broadcast Signal Intrusion was a compelling and suspenseful ride, and a highlight of the festival for me.