In November 1987, two stations were removed in Chicago, Illinois. During the sports part of the news on WGN that evening, the Signal suddenly went to a person who was wearing a Max Headroom mask with a swivel plate behind the figure and his disfigure. Two hours after, he arrived again on PBS at a screening of “Doctor Who.”This one was longer and contained Soundbites that could be distinguished and even ended with an ass shot. No one was ever caught. This was not the first time – there is a famous one from a business owner named Captain Midnight in 1986 and the infamous interruption of the broadcast of Southern television in England in the after 70s — but it is like The event that most inspired Jacob Gentry’s “Broadcast signal Intrusion”, which uses the concept to tell a story of paranoia and that nagging sense when one is Only a revelation away from gathering what everyone seems to have stopped understanding.
Harry Shum Jr. plays James, a video archivist in Chicago in 1999, who stumbles across a photo of a BSI showing a character dressed in a strange, slightly creepy white mask. He immediately becomes (too immediately, really) passion with learning, soon finds a record of a second BSI and hears rumors about a third. It’s not long before James experiences shady figures in car parks and alleyways and receives clues about the origin of the burglaries and their significance. It turns out that the dates of the burglaries correspond a little too exactly to those of the not-found women, and, of course, James has an emotional connection because the rumored third break-in took place exactly when his wife Hannah disappeared.
The script by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall was clearly inspired by conspiratorial films of the 70s and 80s like The Parallax View and Blow Out, films with protagonists passion with the idea that they are just a clue to solve everything. With growing concerns about the power of Technology, the disintegration of Piracy and general distrust of the government, it seems that now is the perfect time for a full-scale resurgence of the paranoid thriller, and “Broadcast Signal Intrusion” could, in retrospect, look like the beginning of the return of this subgenre. Paranoia has certainly not disappeared since the 70s – it was simply put online.
An interesting but underdeveloped component of this particular paranoid thriller is the grief that drives James as much as his curiosity. While most people might look at these interventions with the fascination of a True Crime podcast fan, James immediately doubtful a connection to his trauma, and Shum is able to convey how grief can affect perception. If anything, Gentry feels like he had to play this angle – even though he was probably worried about turning “Broadcast Signal Intrusion” into a “not-found Wife” story —because Shum wants to give the project an urgency he misses all too often. All this leads to a frustrating push-and-Pull between a Movie and its lead actor.
It doesn’t take long either to get the impression that the rabbit hole followed by Gentry James is pretty flat. This is a Film with echoes of the recent horror films about passion like “Berberian Sound Studio” and “Censor”, but these films, despite their flaws, felt much more legitimately peril and fearless than “BSI”, which is content to maintain a slow hum of paranoia for longer than necessary. The stakes are not there, which is good for configuration, but not for monitoring. It’s a Movie that just has to get off the rails at some point and probably only does so in the disappointing final scene, when it almost feels like another Movie is about to begin. Maybe that’s the Point. The Chicago intrusions never added up too much.