While it’s delightful to see Harry Shum Jr. in a lead role, this dark intense film doesn’t take advantage of either his charm or his dancerly moves. Instead, we are led down a rabbit hole in a pre-cyber surfing world. It’s the late 1990s, a time when the internet was new and cellphones were clunky and not a must-have. James, a widowed video archivist (Shum) working the lonely graveyard shift in a dark basement, finds a series of pirate broadcasts that may be linked to a dark conspiracy, one that involves his late wife.
His dancer wife Hannah didn’t die; she disappeared. Or did she? Is she somehow connected to the strange figure in a scary clown mask and wig that speaks, but can’t be understood. How is this figure that intrudes into a news program video connected to James’ disturbing dreams? These broadcast intrusions have been investigated by the FCC and FBI, but the person behind the mask remains a mystery. James believe the intrusions are connected to missing women, including Hannah.
A media studies professor (Steven Pringle) warns James not to fall down this rabbit hole, but what loving husband wouldn’t take the plunge? Along the way, James meets others who have been caught up with the chase before him. There are some characters who don’t seem to really move the action forward and I wonder if they were really necessary. The plot of Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall’s script is so tangled and there seem to be too many threads left to unravel along the way that by the end, the audience’s sympathy is thin and threadbare.
Director Jacob Gentry evokes an atmospheric intellectual labyrinth within urban setting, helped by Scott Thiele’s camera work, but Drinkwater and Woodall’s screenplay doesn’t give Shum enough material to rise above his angsty deserted spouse role nor does the audience receive a satisfactory richly woven resolution.
Broadcast Signal Instruction made its world premiere at SXSW Online 2021. Running time is 104 minutes.