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  Broadcast Signal Intrusion Max Headroom Has A Lot To Answer For
Year: 2021
Director: Jacob Gentry
Stars: Harry Shum Jr, Kelley Mack, Chris Sullivan, Michael B. Woods, Arif Yampolsky, Richard Cotovsky, Steve Pringle, Justin Welborn, Jennifer Jelsema, Anthony E. Cabral, Madrid St Angelo, Preston Tate Jr, James Swanton
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1999, and James (Harry Shum Jr) works as a video archivist, transferring old tapes from one, near-obsolete format to the new digital technology. His wife left him a while back, or at least that's what everyone believed, but the truth is nobody really knows what happened to her, she just upped and disappeared, and he attends group counselling sessions in an attempt to get over this, though his dreams about her are growing increasingly disturbing as time goes on. But then he finds something at work that piques his interest: a copy of a broadcast signal intrusion from 1987, where a pirate interrupted a news broadcast...

If there's one thing you can tell from the screenplay by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall here, it's that they really know their stuff when it comes to meme-worthy pop culture lore, or at least they've spent a lot of time on message boards or Wikipedia investigating their subject. Although fictionalised, fans of weirdo culture would be keen to see this as it referenced plenty of touchstones, all the way from phone phreaker Cap'n Crunch to the most obvious influence, the Max Headroom pirate TV broadcast of 1987, where on one Chicago night first the news, then an episode of Doctor Who, were interrupted by pranksters.

Nobody has ever claimed responsibility for this crime, possibly because they were embarrassed considering the content, but the indications were that this was purely intended as a joke, emulating the Max Headroom TV commercials of the day and going off on its own spanking tangent as a finale. Yet the ripples from this piracy have been considerable, its mystery and downright strangeness building its legend, and of course it's easily found online and was by no means the only example of BSI in that point when the tech could just about be hacked if your nous was sufficient in that area, but as far as we know, never attempted since.

Director Jacob Gentry does well to marry a The Conversation or Blow Out style narrative to that nagging feeling that we really should have cleared up this conundrum by now, only to eventually admit that there are some things that will remain impossible to fathom. He adds in his own Doctor Who spoof show, and also, to tie in with the visual theme of androids in the film's BSIs, references to a Small Wonder pastiche, itself an internet point as so many eighties kids were terrified by its central character VICI the little girl robot. That sense of watching television and not being sure if what you were going to witness was going to be entertaining or disturbing is a signifier of the nineteen-seventies and eighties, and neatly captured in this.

Where it goes off the rails is when it tries to draw out its central enigma, and at a snail's pace as James turns detective and tries to track the culprits of the piracy. In that, we realise these stories have their power simply because there is no obvious explanation for them, and the more you obsess over them the less sense they make. The "rabbit hole" of internet time consumption is referred to here with even a sidekick called Alice (Kelley Mack) for our hero for a stretch of the storyline, though even she falls by the wayside after one shady interview too many with someone who may or may not be in the know as to what is going on. At best, Broadcast Signal Intrusion evoked the feeling of touching on forbidden knowledge, the suspicion that something as mundane as a television interview could be disrupted by forces that could be sinister, or just could be someone having a very committed laugh. But its desire to be as mysterious as its influences backfired when the results were a little flimsy. Music by Ben Lovett.

[Broadcast Signal Intrusion will be in UK Cinemas from 25th March and available on Digital Download & Blu-ray from 28th March 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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