Jacob Gentry’s psychological thriller film, Broadcast Signal Intrusion, follows a protagonist who yearns for closure for his missing wife. Due to the lack of a reasonable conclusion, James (Harry Shum Jr.) gets obsessed with eerie broadcast signal intrusion (BSI). He finds his existence in solving the mystery of these intrusions and, in turn, connects the phenomenon with his personal tragedy. The protagonist loses touch with reality, and his obsession turns into delusion. Let’s figure it out. How far will James go to find closure for his wife?
‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion’ Plot Summary
The story narrates the events of Chicago, 1999. James (Harry Shum Jr.) archives broadcasted videotapes for a Chicago television station. Personally, James is struggling with the loss of his wife, Hannah. To cope with the loss, James often attended group therapy sessions during the daytime.
One night, while archiving a videotape, James finds eerie footage of a masked man inside a house set, accompanied by distorted audio. James investigates and discovers that these broadcast intrusions are an act of video piracy. The FCC and FBI tried to investigate these attacks, but the mysterious hack remains unsolved to date.
James gets obsessed with these videotapes and the unidentified person in them. He visits FCC bureau chief Dr. Stuart Lithgow, who informs him about a third intrusion that hasn’t been archived. Consumed by the mysterious conspiracy, James fanatically searches for the third tape and the meaning behind these intrusions.
Who was the mysterious creature in Broadcast Signal Intrusions?
Through a 1987 news report on video piracy, James discovered a second Broadcast Signal Intrusion that occurred on May 10, 1987. This time, the hackers attacked a WTTP broadcast of the syndicated science fiction series, “Don Cronos.” James tried to locate the archived video footage but found out that the FCC confiscated it years ago.
James contacted his friend, Chester, a VHS geek, who arranged the videotape for him. Chester informed James that the creature in these videos was Sal-E Sparks, a doppelganger for the android wife from Sparkbot, an 80s SITCOM.
What was the mystery of the Third Tape? How did James become obsessed?
James found out about a report on these video signal hacks prepared by the FCC bureau chief, Dr. Stuart Lithgow, from the Chicago BBS chatroom. However, when James met Stuart, the bureau chief refused to share any confidential information. But Stuart did shed some light on the pattern of these intrusions.
According to Stuart, broadcast intrusions were a rare cultural phenomenon. In 40 years of broadcasting (until 1999), there had been less than 10 such cases. The two intrusions in Chicago were famously known as the Sal-E Sparks incident, which remains unsolved.
The first intrusion occurred on May 3, 1987, and the second a week later on May 10. The FCC reviewed the footage, and the FBI got involved too. But they were at a loss as the investigators failed to find anything substantial. Stuart hinted at some rumors he heard about a third Sal-E Sparks intrusion that happened years later. However, by then, the authorities had given up investigation, and thus no one bothered digging up the old case.
Though Stuart did follow the pattern of these intrusions and came up with a reference date, November 23, 1996. Coincidentally, a day before this date, James’ wife, Hannah, had disappeared, and James obsessively believed that maybe she was kidnapped and perhaps the kidnapper recorded her on one of these intrusion videos. James’s obsession with Hannah and her disappearance was also shown by the fact that he had the date of her disappearance, 11-22-96, tattooed on his wrist. Over time, he became obsessed with these intrusions and wanted to know everything about them.
What was the link between Broadcast Signal Intrusions and Missing Women?
James re-scrutinized the videotape and extracted the audio from the footage. He decrypted the footage by reducing noise and deciphered a message that said, “I fixed them.” I fixed them all. “He even figured out that these videos were shot inside a set that made the figure seem tall, almost god-like. James was confident that someone, whoever it was, had broadcast this footage with a message hidden in it. He re-visited the chat rooms and found a conspiracy theory that connected Sal-E Sparks with some missing women.
On May 2, 1987, a day before the first intrusion, Frederica Sexton, a 21-year-old woman, disappeared in Chicago. And the day before the second intrusion, on May 9, when a WTPT TV signal was hijacked, a woman named Marie Bedford disappeared.
James met a rare antique dealer who contacted James in these chat rooms and gave him access to the FBI file. Giegers informed James that in both intrusions that surfaced, a woman went missing before the signal was hijacked.
After an extensive investigation, James surmised that these videotapes were confessions from the kidnapper who abducted the woman a day before the intrusion. But his theory was rejected by Stuart, who believed that James was trying to fill a void created by his missing wife. Stuart subtly explained, “Grief can be a tricky thing.”
Who Hijacked the Broadcast Signal?
James met Alice, a researcher who had been stalking him for a long time. Alice got intrigued with James’ hunt and thus requested him to take a look at the footages. She decoded a seven-digit phone number from the Morse Code used in the videotape. James called on the number but met a dead end as it was connected to an automated machine that played the distorted noise, similar to the one in the footage.
Alice found out that the phone number was registered to a storage unit in Peoria. Still, when they opened the unit, they only found a landline unit connected to an answering machine.
The facility manager, Brad, informed the curious seekers that the unit was first rented in 1987 (the year when the first intrusion happened). The payment was set up on a credit card and had been paid every month without fail. Initially, Brad refused to share the owner’s details, but suddenly, he got a call from someone. After the call, Brad enthusiastically informed James and Alice that the rental unit belonged to Stephen Meyer, who lived in Joliet, Illinois.
James and Alice approached Stephen Meyer, who confessed to hijacking the signals in 1987.
Why did Stephen Meyer hijack the signal?
Stephen was an outcast student who stammered during his teenage years. He found his existence on the Computer Bulletin Board Service (CBBS), where he chatted with other outcast kids who were into hacking. These guys, who called themselves Phreakers, could break into any phone line in the country, and through the board, he came across Nite Pirate Hijacking. James read about Nite Pirate and his signal to Florida (FLA) in the chat room.
Stephen got obsessed with the beauty of Nite Pirate Hijacking and dreamt of creating a similar phenomenon. In school, he made a presentation explaining how to steal a television signal. His efforts caught the attention of some rich seniors from his school who wanted to hijack a signal. The opportunity helped Stephen become a star of the moment, and he didn’t leave a stone unturned to transform it into a perfect masterpiece.
Stephen made an untraceable signal intrusion, but he also realized that his efforts would be in vain if the rest of the world were unaware of it. Hence, he planted the numbers (with the help of Morse Code) that would be traced back to him.
However, James believed that Stephen was lying as he had already concluded that this footage was confessions from a man who had abducted a woman. James and Alice heard voices from a wooden roof above the basement, but Stephen threatened them to leave. Before leaving, Stephen told James that the third tape had all the answers.
Who abducted Hannah?
In his pursuit of looking out for closure, James got delusional. He didn’t trust Stephen’s story and continued his search for the third tape. However, fed up with James’ obsession, Alice left him. (She disappeared from the motel, and James believed she left).
James arrived back at his apartment and found it in complete disarray. The “Don Cronos” tape and the final footage of James’ wife, Hannah, were both missing. Someone did, however, leave the third tape for James, labeled “Hannah Ballet ’96.” Like Dr. Stuart Lithgow told James, the third intrusion happened in 1996 during the CPA broadcast. From the footage, James grasped a mark on the kidnapper’s hand and the location of a farmhouse.
When James arrived at the location, he saw Michael Gardner, who had the same mark on his hand that James saw in the third video footage. Without any further interrogation, a deluded James attacked Michael and locked him in a cage. James found Alice’s cap and some computer machines in Michael’s house that made him believe that he was the one who kidnapped the missing women. He inquired about signal hijacks and missing women, but Michael refused to confess.
Finally, James threatened Michael to take him to the set, which Michael did. James discovered the mask and the set props inside a shed. In his madness, James compelled Michael to rebuild the set and, in the end, recorded a video of Michael in which he confessed to hijacking the signal and killing the missing women. After recording Michael’s confession, James probably killed him and buried him in the dirt outside the house.
Did Michael Gardner kill the missing women?
There was no concrete evidence that linked Michael directly to the kidnappings and killings of the missing women. James killed Michael based on a theory he created from the mark on Michael’s hands, the equipment, and Alice’s cap he found in Michael’s house. However, James ignored that at Stephen Meyer’s place, he heard various “thuds” that suggested that he had locked someone in the attic.
At Michael’s house, the phone constantly rang, but James didn’t pick it up, probably to save himself from leaving evidence. Before dying, Michael consistently inquired about his dad, who could also be the murderer, and Michael could have been a spawn in the killings. Michael showed minute signs of multiple personality disorder. However, these are mere coincidences or theories because no concrete evidence was found.
‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion’ Ending Explained
Whoever the killer was, James was just interested in finding closure for Hannah. For a moment, when James and Alice were waiting outside Stephen Meyer’s house, Alice asked him if James had any hobbies. James felt short of answers and got stressed out. In a brief scene, James states that he can’t seem to remember anything from before his hunt started.
Probably, the intrusions acted as an escape that kept him engaged and made him forget about Hannah, whom he missed dearly. He even stated that he didn’t know what had happened to Hannah. He just had a glimpse of an abandoned car, skyway bridge, empty casket, like she just disappeared in thin air. Before he could further remember the memories, James freaked out. In short, he didn’t have a healthy mind.
As James drove out of Michael’s farm, a man on the radio spoke about mental health and peace of mind. As suggested earlier, James was so invested in solving the mystery that he started hallucinating and fantasizing.
In a delusional state, James hit a masked woman crossing the road. James quickly came out of the car and saw the creature spitting blood. James got visions of his wife, Hannah, from behind because he couldn’t remember her face. In all probability, James had a sick mind and was slowly sinking into the depths of madness. In his false belief, he killed a man who could be innocent. The film ended on a cliffhanger without a definite closure. A closure James had been hunting down from the beginning.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion is a 2021 Psychological Thriller film directed by Jacob Gentry.