Generally, a last-minute twist implies that – if you weren’t watching closely – you’re not going to appreciate where the story ultimately goes, much less care whether or not that train is even still on the tracks. M. Night Shyamalan has built an entire career on ripping the rug out on you in the last reel. Programs like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits managed to turn in season after season of such curious fare, but it’s been my experience that their reveals usually were within one’s grasp if you were paying attention or asked yourself the right questions.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion tries to accomplish some of the same, but it’s a vastly more psychological story than it is anything else. This cautionary tale about what motivates us to seek out and answer our own life’s personal mysteries works exceedingly well up until those final moments. Some might find them controversial, and some might find them lazy. But if you’re reading this, then you’re likely interested in knowing what I thought about it … and the best I can say is that – like spoiling the effect of a good cocktail – director Jacob Gentry killed my buzz.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “For three years, James has been haunted by his wife’s sudden and inexplicable disappearance. His best distraction is work – specifically, archiving old videos. While watching decade-aged TV news footage one night, he sees a video interference that’s deeply disturbing. And it’s not the only interference he’ll see. As his obsession over these strange clips increases, and he submerges himself into their mysteries, James discovers troubling connections to his missing wife. Which will these broadcast intrusions bring him, though: long-desired answers or a never-ending nightmare?”
Trust me: I love a good conspiracy theory. Always have. Likely always will. However, having read countless books exploring some of the most bizarre conspiracies that have emerged from the past few hundred years of what we’re supposed to call ‘human civilization,’ I can tell you one thing assuredly: the more you think about any hypothesis, the more likely it becomes that you can tie it to yourself.
And I think that’s a truth somehow near and dear to why so many folks are swept up in the latest craze: without a whole lot of effort, it’s easy to deduce that you or someone you know or perhaps even someone from your family tree might be linked to the wildest notions. Which among us wouldn’t want – in some small way – to become a part of history? To transcend the ordinary and become part and parcel of what might be written down and preserved for decades? Perhaps even taught to like-minded souls once your role in it has been exposed?
Now, I’ll agree with any contingent of the audience that suggests perhaps this Intrusion could’ve – ahem – ended a bit differently. As much as I found it interesting, it also serves to kinda/sorta disconnect the viewer from experiencing the film. (Without spoiling it, let me clarify it this way: I hate split-screening – the act of showing two different locations in a single frame – because it pulls me out of the story, reminding me that I’m watching a film. To me, that kills the mood, and it kinda/sorta defeats my identifying with characters because they’re no longer authentic but human props to a director and screenwriter.) Think of it as an intrusion within an intrusion, and maybe you can even understand that I’m not a big fan of breaking that fourth wall (between the film and me). I think I understand what was narratively being said, but because moments like this are always subject to interpretation, maybe I don’t after all.
There are other ways of handling this style of ending, the one meant to leave an audience grasping for meaning but left to fill-in-the-blank on their own. One prominent example would be Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), a flick that saw Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul questioning just how he could’ve been one-upped in a profession he’s been alleged said to be the very best at. Coppola’s finale saw Harry clearly dealing with a true psychological unraveling, but the particulars of what it meant to him internally (even how it happened) was subject to any viewer’s deductive prowess. By contrast, I found Intrusion’s chilling last scenes a bit too vague for its own good, possibly even suggesting I hadn’t seen what I just watched. What Coppola did was genius; what director Gentry did here felt like a failed ‘gotcha’ moment, really only thumbing the picture’s nose at me for spending 104 minutes with it.
That’s the real crime here. I was mesmerized by so much of this. The writing was sharp, and the performances were very, very good. Shum Jr. is a revelation here, underplaying most of his moments with just the right skepticism; he truly sells the substance of this evolving mystery, and I think his work here deserves praise. Kelley Mack does fabulous work as a kinda/sorta confidante who may or may not have something to hide. Even the bit workers in here hit their marks in such a way as to make the central mystery eerily compelling.
Still, it only took a matter of creative seconds to rip the curtain away with the reminder, “Don’t worry. It’s only a movie.”
Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021) is produced by Queensbury Pictures. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the reliable MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications? This one looks and sounds very good … well, except for a few produced bits that were made to be a bit sub-par (you’ll understand when you see it). As for the special features? Well, there is a commentary, but I’m putting that off for a few days before I partake of it as I’m still pondering a full rewatch in order to hone it a bit more on what I thought of its finale.
Again, I’ve no problem saying right up front the Broadcast Signal Intrusion will likely frustrate as many folks as it intrigues, but that’s the risk of capturing a particular story with a particular framework capped off with a particular ending. Yes, some folks like stories to end with a kind of nebulousness that serves as cocktail topic fodder, but I’m of a variety of viewers who like the storyteller to hit the nail on the head and not leave me to figure some of the equations out for posterity’s sake. Still, I’d push back against those who found it a ‘lazy’ ending: no doubt those involved intended for you to have to think about this one a bit. Me? I’ve already got enough on my mind to worry about … and now you put the fate of Harry Shum Jr. on my platter? Good grief!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a complimentary DVD of Broadcast Signal Intrusion by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.