(director/writer: Jacob Gentry; screenwriters: Phil Drinkwater/Tim Woodall; cinematographer: Scott Thiele; editor: Jacob Gentry; music: Ben Lovett; cast: Harry Shum Jr. (James), Kelley Mack (Alice), Chris Sullivan (Phreaker), Justin Welborn (Michael), Jennifer Jelsema (Nora), Steven Pringle (Dr. Stuart Lithgow), Michael B. Woods (MacAlister), Arif Yampolsky (Chester), Madrid St. Angelo (Proprietor), Richard Cotovsky (Manager), Preston Tate Jr. (Man); Runtime: 194; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Greg Newman, Brett Hays, Giles Edwards, Nicola Goelzhaeuser: Dark Sky Films; 2021)

An unsettling thriller without much of a payoff.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unsettling thriller without much of a payoff, that’s written and directed with a sense of menace by Jacob Gentry (“The Signal”/”Synchronicity”) and promisingly scripted by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall.

In Chicago, in 1999,
the video archivist James (Harry Shum Jr) works alone in a dark basement to transfer old broadcast footage into a digital format to save for the future. He keeps busy, which stops him from thinking about his wife who recently vanished. By some fluke, James comes across a broadcast signal intrusion on an old tape which has curious images in the inserted footage similar to his recent dreams. He wonders if this is a clue he should follow about his wife’s disappearance.

Tracking this down, James uncovers that this intrusion is known to past investigators who deal in such incidents either for academic reasons (such as the work of a media studies professor (Steven Pringle), self-indulgent ones or even for sinister reasons. Those behind these intrusions may possibly be connected to the disappearance of some of the other missing women. Among fellow travelers on this path James makes contact with the retro-tech geek (Arif Yampolsky), a man who went bonkers on this same sort of wild goose chase (Michael B. Woods), and the following additional investigators such as those played by Chris Sullivan, Richard Cotovsky and Justin Welborn. He also gains a temporary collaborator in the young transient Alice (Kelley Mack), who along with the other female character (played by Jennifer Jelsema) maybe are actually connected to the central conspiracy or not.

James works to track down every lead, as he becomes convinced that the intrusions are directly connected with the disappearance of his wife (while the viewer must suspend belief to keep up with the plot points).

It’s easy for the viewer to say screw it and go along with this quirky plot no matter how absurd it is. But in the second half the enigmatic film goes off on a different tract and logic basically disappears in the same way his wife has. This development leads it away from thriller territory to something more mystical, something I just couldn’t buy into from following such a murky story.

Despite there being some interesting ideas hatched, the film seemed lost when I couldn’t go along with its plot turns without questioning its sensibilities.

But it’s a bold film that I would give an A for effort and a C+ for execution, which in my book adds up to a final grade of B-.

At its best moments it reminded me of films I previously fell for like “Blow-Up” and “Videodrome.” 

REVIEWED ON 11/4/2021  GRADE: B-