dir. Jacob Gentry
When working late one night, video archivist James (Harry Shum Jr.) stumbles across a recording of an old pirate broadcast where figures unknown interrupted a TV show with their own subversive signal. Initially intrigued, James quickly spirals into obsession as he seeks to locate the creators of this “intrusion”, convinced there is some kind of code to be cracked which might be linked to his wife, who went missing several years earlier.
The airwaves Jacob Gentry’s latest surfs are thick with genre heritage: from the opening bars of Ben Lovett’s Herrmann-esque soundtrack (which simultaneously recalls both Taxi Driver and countless Italian giallo) it’s clear we’re in the world of seedy noir, where lonely men spend their nights starring at screens, their minds slowly unravelling. In a year when Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor is also cutting through the static, the tactility of the tech here feels important: James is a man surrounded by videotape and cameras, his relationship with the world bound up in the artificial act of seeing. Indeed his connection with his missing wife appears to be principally either via his dreams or a VHS cassette he still has of her, these being – in someway – interchangeable.
De Palma’s Blow Out also feels like an important touchstone, both in its voyeuristic obsession with perceiving but also the investigative partnership James forms with the mysterious Alice (The Walking Dead’s Kelley Mack). How she crosses his path – and whether she can be trusted – also draws from noir waters, though as the film progresses to its disturbing – and enigmatic – third act these waters are also muddied with Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio.
It is in this finale – and the intrusions themselves – where the film is perhaps most successful. Directed by Possessor effects maestro Dan Martin, the pirate broadcasts are genuinely unnerving, unsafe, feeling like death-less snuff. And as James’ mind begins to become more compromised (by the broadcasts? something else suppressed?) so too the audience feels at risk, our own consciousness open to intrusive thoughts.
Written by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall – who also made the 2016 short of the same name – the script was picked up by the New Blood initiative run in conjunction by FrightFest and Queensbury Pictures. It’s a kaleidoscopic puzzle box of dangerous pieces, and if the final moments initially feel almost too elliptical you can expect them to be on hard repeat inside your head for the foreseeable future, as you continue to rewind the mystery and play it back again and again in an attempt to crack the code. Just like James.