Following Lightbulb Film Distribution’s acquisition and release of masterful shocker Rent-A-Pal last year, those purveyors of hidden low-key horror gems have treated us to another harrowing VHS journey.
Drawing inspiration from the mysterious 1987 Max Headroom signal hijacking among other peculiar ‘broadcast signal intrusion’ cases, the film follows a video archivist in the late-1990s (Harry Shum Jr.) as he discovers one of these frightening ‘BSI’s on a videotape. Intrigued, he becomes obsessed and ultimately uncovers a possible conspiracy that links to the disappearance of several women…including his wife.
The film starts incredibly strongly, building a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere around the tapes which are harrowing and unforgettable in their execution. As the mystery surrounding the tapes deepens, the plot becomes more and more convoluted with just as many plot-holes as there are satisfying twists. The film’s screenplay from Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall is regrettably the cause of all issues here. Director Jacob Gentry – who co-directed 2007’s similarly themed The Signal – certainly has a fascination in this world, and it is reflected in his strong handling of the material.
But there’s only so much he can do with the script. The film’s ambiguity is both effective and frustrating in equal measure, leaving a rather confused response to the film upon its rather weakly-delivered climax. But on the whole, it is the film’s aesthetic and atmosphere, thanks to Gentry’s direction, that elevates it beyond its creepypasta trappings and makes it memorable.
Performances across the board are stellar, though, with Harry Shum Jr. totally compelling in the lead – certainly a long way from his humble career beginnings in the Step Up films and Glee. The supporting cast all deliver too, with This Is Us’ Chris Sullivan putting in a typically scene-stealing performance.