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{SXSW Review} Broadcast Signal Intrusion

If you rolled up Joel Schumacher’s 8 MM into Fincher’s Zodiac you might capture a bit of the essence of Broadcast Signal Intrusion which unfolds like the scariest nightmare riddle imaginable. BSI was the first midnighter I caught in real time at SXSW and perhaps its that added level of authenticity that contributed to how this movie left me. In short, BSI is completely and totally my jam.

Set in the late 1990’s BSI follows James (Harry Shum Jr.) a video archivist as he searches for the hackers who have spiced disturbing videos into normal television programming. The investigation leads him to a series of murders. James is left trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together as he is confronted by amateur sleuths that have come before him. The rabbit hole gets deeper the closer James gets.

There are two bits of the movie that if they were not perfect the entire film would fall apart. First Shum’s performance is an absolute knockout proving he has come a long way since his tenure on Glee. Always bewildered and never crazy Shum acts how most of us would feel if confronted with the same set of circumstances. Shum makes obsession feel normal and understated which is not often the choice actors or directors make when faced with similar roles. It adds authenticity to a genuinely weird movie. It Shum is not committed the movie becomes a farce and in turn loses any of the tension it works hard to build.

The other important factor that makes this movie truly terrifying are the pirate broadcasts that break into the normal television programming. When learning about the uncanny valley in my undergrad our professor showed us early prototypes of human robots. They are freaky. Not just in a murderous robot kind of way but in a half human kind of way that makes sharing space with them uncomfortable. Without giving away too much of the film the intrusion that the movie is based on star a robotic wife who gets increasingly abused as the film moves on. The sound design and direction of these mini movies would be reason alone to add BSI to your list of much watches when it receives a wider release.

Some have called this movie a neo-noir. Its not a bad description as the movie feels influenced by other movies like Zodiac or Nightcrawler that sell themselves as neo-noir. However the general weirdness of the film reminds me more of something surrealist. Combined with the 1990’s setting the entire film feels a bit like watching Cronenberg in Betamax. It doesn’t have any of the body horror (minus the robot wife in the pirate broadcast) but it captures all of the strangeness of one of his films.

BSI pretty blatantly tries to tap into late 90’s nostalgia and I think does so masterfully. The internet in the film feels a bit like the wild west version of the internet I remember. You never know what exactly is out there information wise and the inconsistency of information only adds to the mystery of the film. The score of the film (designed by Ben Lovett) goes heavy on the brass and in turn also reflects the soundtrack of a bygone era. I blinked and movies based in the nineties now feel like period pieces and director Jacob Gentry helps create a movie that feels of that time period.

The entire movie felt like the creepiest escape room possible. Each sound meant something different. Each scene provided a plethora of clues, many of which were red herrings. Its this attention to detail that will have real life internet sleuths dissecting this movie for years to come (may I recommend starting with all of the ballerina imagery which permeates this movie). Normally I am weary of a slow burn but when the movie uses that technique to draw you in propel you into the mystery it feels less like a slow burn and more like a building inferno. Check out Broadcast Signal Intrusion as soon as you can.