South by Southwest’s Midnighter World Premiere films, Broadcast Signal Intrusion and The Feast, represent the SXSW 2021 series well in their creepiness and their slow build to an edgy, shocking ending. Broadcast Signal Intrusion keeps one steeped in mystery throughout until the reveal in the last 10 minutes. The Feast burns slowly, giving substantial clues throughout about the protagonist who speaks sparingly and surreptitiously but “carries a big stick” at the conclusion.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion, directed by Jacob Gentry and written by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall, gives a nod and a bow to analogue tapes. It takes place in the late ’90s, a turning point in media. A lonely video archivist, James (Harry Shum, Jr.), discovers two macabre broadcast interruptions while viewing old programs. Alone and internalized after his wife’s disappearance, he becomes obsessed with uncovering the sinister conspiracy behind them.
With an intentional minimum of specificity, Gentry brings James’ journey to completion effectively. By slowly unspooling the information, he keeps us enthralled and attentive. Picking up clues and tidbits from unusual sources James ties in the pieces and relates them to a missing third tape.
Lighting, cinematography, music, sound design and editing stir the foreboding and audience jumpiness. Though the guessing game continues throughout, the story aligns with James’ overarching fixations. To what extent does the circumstance of his wife’s going missing relate to these weird momentary broadcasts? Additionally, to what extent have the signals been tailored to his nature and his bedevilment at finding her?
Others assist James’ search, such as Alice (Kelley Mack). They provide interest in a random, happenstance way. When James unearths what yields the payoff to his quest, the climax ensues. Yet, Gentry leaves the viewer wondering about the last event and James’ journey. There’s always one more road to cross and tape to view.
Less mysterious but centrally horrific, The Feast settles into a conflagration as screenwriter Roger Williams exposes the protagonist Cadi’s ultimate intentions. Directed by Lee Haven Jones, it has music, cinematography, and editing that plumb the depths of the atmospheric. Horror edges into a conclusion that satisfies gruesomely.
In this Welsh-language film with English subtitles, the eerie, hypnotic portrayal of Cadi (Annes Elwy) intrigues. As the character evolves, her placement as server of the feast twists into a generating, supernatural force. Thematically, The Feast offers a sumptuous if terrifying meal for the eyes, ears and soul.
Ironically, Glenda (Nia Roberts), the matriarch of the elite, materially well-off family, who hires the demure Cadi, suspects nothing about who she is. This family of four lives in blindness and worships the craven, empty values of modern success. Obviously, by sacrificing their farm to mining, they’ve eschewed the old wisdom which aligns people’s souls to venerating sacred nature.
Consumed by greed for power and money, Glenda holds a lavish eight-course dinner for her farming neighbors. Exploiting her land, she and MP husband Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) hope to persuade their guests to do the same. Ready with future contracts to seal the deal, Euros (Rhodri Meilir) attends the high-stakes dinner. (Note the ironic name symbolism and the U.K.’s political approach to Europe.) Most probably, Euros, Glenda and Gwyn arrange kickbacks when the neighbors cede their land to fossil fuels to “make a killing.”
Evocative evidence of the land’s meaning, withheld until the end, figure into Cadi’s behavior and ethos. Glenda’s seemingly luxuriant house remains a weird eyesore of misplaced, sterile architecture in a lush nearby forested setting. Interestingly, the exterior and interior clue the viewer in to the crass debasement of the MP and his family. Symbols abound subtly, like strange pieces in an ill-formed puzzle. And Williams and the director characterize the family as hyper-ambitious and corrupt, especially the two sons. Dislocated, self-consumed, unattached to the land, one prepares for a triathlon. Sensitively, the other son appears to reject his parents, a cover. In her interactions with him, Cadi reveals his drug addiction.
The Feast, dramatic, paranormal and horrific in its own right, compels until the end. Though its genre differs from Broadcast Signal Intrusion, both films find appropriate synchronicity in the Midnighters category. Look for them on digital platforms soon.