Sometimes it’s hard to put into words why a movie didn’t resonate with me. Using a recent example, Antlers was a perfectly fine movie with a pretty basic ending, but it just didn’t live up to my expectations. And that’s the case with Broadcast Signal Intrusion. The creepy atmosphere is on point, but the ambiguous ending just didn’t land. And I’m usually a huge fan of ambiguous endings! So let’s analyze what I think didn’t work.
The story follows James (Mr. Harry Shum) in 1999. His wife went missing and is presumed dead, and he never got any answers as to what happened. Throwing himself into video recordings, he stumbles upon a signal intrusion–when someone hijacks TV airwaves (a lot of the movie seems based on the real world Max Headroom hijack, which remains a mystery today who did it, by the way). He connects with the intrusion, a bizarre clip of someone either pretending to be a malfunctioning robot, or possibly an actual robot. It’s creepy! I liked it! James falls down a deep well of conspiracies while trying to find out who did it, with each clue he discovers leading to more questions. Truly believing the hijacks are related to his wife’s disappearance–and the disappearances of other women–he teams up with a tweaked out guy who slits his own throat, as well as a girl who disappears from the story near the end. Was she even real? Questionable. In the end Harry finds a third hijack and believes it was specifically made to taunt him. Using pretty obvious clues, he corners the man he views is responsible, forcing him to give a recorded confession. James may even have killed the man afterwards, but that’s just the start of the ambiguous ending. Driving away, James runs over a robot who looks like the characters from the hijack and as it malfunctions, so does he. The end.
So what do we know? Two signal hacks definitely happened, but the third is debatable. The first two hid clues throughout them, like slowed down speech and Morse code for a telephone number. But the third video not only has the hand of the supposed kidnapper/killer, but has a clear shot of the filming location that directs James straight to a suspect. Assuming that interaction was real, it’s pretty clear the man he encounters is not the one in charge. He’s not that smart and makes references to waiting for someone. By this point it’s pretty obvious James is just looking for someone to blame and while this poor sap was most likely involved, James acts as if he did it all by himself (even though we know we saw someone else who was supposedly involved in the hijack). And what about the obvious signs someone is pulling his strings. James and the lady who may or may not exist try to get information out of a guy who runs a storage unit, but professionalism won’t let him share any info. That is, until he gets a call and shares everything, all with a smile. So, uh… we’re just not gonna question who was on the other end of the phone or what they said? And then the entire ending with the robot just doesn’t feel real. But if the third hijack is all in James’ head, how does he corner anyone? Where any of the people who James either confronted or was helped by real? Was any of it real? And who is the puppet master pulling on his strings?
Watching this with friends, we had different interpretations of what really happened. One believed the robot to be a real mechanical being, constructed by the true mastermind. Another suggested a supernatural curse was involved, afflicting those who look too deeply into the videos. I think James ran over his wife, blocked out the incident, and was desperate to blame someone else for her “disappearance.” Those are all pretty differing ideas and I think that’s why the ambiguous ending didn’t land for me: we had almost nothing to go by, so we made up whatever we thought best fit, adding our own personal flavor to our explanations. It was too vague. So many questions were left and a lot of them were painfully obvious to someone who wasn’t having a mental breakdown (so not at all obvious for James). And so it just didn’t land for me. The atmosphere is great, the soundtrack stands out, but the story itself was too much smoke and not enough substance to really latch onto. Your mileage may vary, of course.
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