Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021) – OHMC 2022 Day 13

13 October, 2022
October Horror Movie Challenge 2022

Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)

Broadcast Signal Intrusion has been on my watchlist since I first read about it last year. All I really knew was that it had been inspired by the infamous Max Headroom signal hijacking incident that took place in Chicago in 1987. The video from the actual incident is disturbing enough, so I was keen to see what a horror film based on it might be like.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion 1

Synopsis

Chicago, 1999. James has an ill-defined job that involves video, and a side line in repairing and reselling cameras. His real passion, however, is investigating a series of strange signal hijacking incidents that began in 1987. Not only are the videos from the incidents disturbing in their own right, but each appears to coincide with the mysterious disappearance of a woman. The last such victim was James’s wife, Hannah.

These intrusions take the form of a figure in a latex mask behaving in alarming ways and making even more alarming sounds. While they seem to be inspired by SAL-E Sparks, an android character from the beloved sitcom Sparkbot, their execution is pure nightmare.

As James analyses the broadcasts, he realises that they contain encoded messages. Following these clues brings James into contact with fellow obsessives of all sorts, some driven to madness by their attempts to find meaning in the signals.

Will James share their fate? Can he uncover the truth about his wife’s disappearance? And who is really behind these signals?

Broadcast Signal Intrusion 2

General Thoughts

As well as the Max Headroom hijacking, the SAL-E Sparks videos are also inspired by the creepy Tara the Android video that became a meme in the early days of YouTube.

For geeks of a certain vintage, the technology of Broadcast Signal Intrusion will be pure nostalgia. While James finds a fair amount of information on the web (including pages on the wonderfully named netcities.com), much of the discussion of the video hacks takes place via bulletin boards. Given that the heyday of the BBS was the 1980s, this is pretty late in the game for them. Still, it’s not hard to imagine paranoid hackers wanting to stick to more private systems such as these.

Despite this, the hacker culture portrayed in Broadcast Signal Intrusion owes a lot more to Hollywood than reality. The characters we meet are the kinds of tweaked-out obsessives we’ve seen in any number of films and TV programmes since the ’80s. They operate in the kind of feverish demimonde that exists purely in the imagination of screenwriters. While this is hardly egregious, it just adds to the plethora of well-worn conspiracy thriller tropes that litter this film.

It’s hard not to make comparisons between Broadcast Signal Intrusion and Archive 81. While the two stories are very different, they both feature obsessive protagonists who specialise in videotapes. But where Archive 81 (at least in its Netflix adaptation) overexplains its mysteries, Broadcast Signal Intrusion goes in the other direction. Ultimately, neither approach is particularly satisfying.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion 3

Verdict

Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a terribly patchy film. There are some truly creepy moments — especially the signals themselves — but they are swamped by the kinds of clichés and tropes you have seen in any number of similar movies. This is the kind of film where the protagonist notices someone following them, only for the shadowy figure to vanish as a van drives past. When characters talk to each other, their dialogue is largely stilted and expositional. It seems like half the people in the world only exist to guide James to the next clue.

The biggest problem, however, is finding a reason to care about what is happening. James’s obsession should provide all the engagement we need, but the narrative is so choppy and inconclusive that it feels like we’re wandering from one random scene to the next. You could argue that this is simply because James is an unreliable narrator and we are getting his highly subjective and disjointed version of events. While I fully accept this, the execution leads to more frustration than intrigue.

Somewhere inside Broadcast Signal Intrusion lies a clever subversion of the classic paranoid thriller. The problem is that it’s so well masked that most viewers will be left scratching their heads. Unless you work out an interpretation that satisfies you, you’re unlikely to get much out of the film beyond moments of unease. And that’s a shame. There’s a good movie here somewhere but I’m not sure it’s the one we’re watching.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
  2. Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
  3. Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
  4. Thirst (Australia, 1979)
  5. A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
  6. Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
  7. I Came By (UK, 2022)
  8. 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
  9. Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
  10. Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
  11. Glorious (USA, 2022)
  12. All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
  13. Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
  14. Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
  15. The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
  16. Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
  17. Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
  18. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
  19. Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
  20. The Addiction (USA, 1995)
  21. Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
  22. The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
  23. The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
  24. Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
  25. Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
  26. Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
  27. The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
  28. His House (UK, 2020)
  29. Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
  30. Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
  31. Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

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One comment on “Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021) – OHMC 2022 Day 13

  1. caddy1071 Nov 10, 2022

    As being one of the freaked pre-teens watching the Max Headroom incident that night, I certainly appreciate the memories! Definitely will check this out as an homage down that memory lane even if it’s not exactly the highest of caliber horror. 😉

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