Broadcast Signal Intrustion and Coming Home in the Dark are screening as part of the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival that runs Aug. 5 to Aug. 25.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion
Jacob Gentry’s Broadcast Signal Intrusion has a few visible antecedents. The premise—a man hired to transfer VHS tapes to disc becomes haunted by the image of a hijacked broadcast feed featuring a figure wearing a strange mask—is clearly a play on the unsolved Max Headroom incident. The real-life event occurred on a local Chicago station in 1987, where a man dressed in a Max Headroom mask interrupted regular programming twice in one night.
The film is also reminiscent of a De Palma thriller, most specifically pulling from Blow Out (itself a take on Antonioni’s Blow-Up). James (Harry Shum Jr.), the technician working on the tapes, becomes obsessed with the truth behind the broadcast intrusions, which leads him down a winding, dark path involving the disappearance of several women.
With its brassy score and shadow-filled sets, one could mistake Broadcast Signal Intrusion for a neo-noir. But this atmosphere fades away as the film moves into its second half, where the pursuit of truth becomes that of a more traditional thriller. In a strong first act, the mystery is laid out with deliberate eeriness that certainly piqued my curiosity.
As the truth starts to unravel, though, the film struggles to maintain this intrigue. The vagaries in the plot are not always readily explained—there are a handful of characters whose addition to the plot are either confusing or overly convenient. While the vagueness of everything adds to the mystery, it is only to a point, after which the plot loses some propulsion. Ultimately, the ends are less satisfying than the means. The mystery is more compelling than the discovery.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion: C+
Coming Home in the Dark
Coming Home in the Dark is a bleak genre exercise, a cold examination of the nature of evil and the ghosts of the past. In rural New Zealand, a family is taking a road-trip, only to find themselves terrorized by two armed men. The setup has shades of Funny Games, a film which is chillingly effective at depicting nihilistic violence and the sheer hopelessness of a situation which other movies present for thrills.
I feel like this brand of genre exercise has become a trend in the film festival indie. These are films set in remote locales with roundabout plots involving the continual capture and escape of victims. Along the way, innocent bystanders are asked to help, subsequently murdered without mercy, and the cat-and-mouse chase begins anew. Occasionally, it appears as though these films attempt to make the metatextual nod to the prevalence of media violence that Funny Games does, only they do so while cheaply indulging in said media violence.
Coming Home in the Dark takes the angle that the apparently innocent are not truly innocent, that violence begets violence and no one can escape the past. All the same, most of the violence is arbitrary and aimed toward genuinely innocent characters, which lessens the impact of that central message and makes the bleakness of everything feel unnecessary. And it is difficult to watch something so pessimistic when it plods along in that familiar pattern—hostages are captured, attempt to escape, and are captured again. It is a cycle that dulls the stakes through repetition, stretching out a razor thin plot to feature length. Even at 93 minutes with credits, the film struggled to capture my attention.
Credit where credit is due, though, the film looks great. The cinematography from Matt Henley captures the different phases of this nightmare trip with a keen eye.
Coming Home in the Dark: C
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)