• Nate Adams

SXSW Snapshots: 'The Spine of Night,' 'Alien on Stage' and 'Broadcast Signal Intrusion'


Editors Note: The SXSW Snapshot series is a collection of brief reviews from our coverage of the 2021 South by Southwest online film festival. Reviews were compiled in no particular order. Be on the lookout for more in the series as we unspool additional snapshots! Enjoy.


BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION

An atmospheric thriller that methodically builds to a resounding thud, Jacob Gentry’s homage to 70s thrillers ala “Videodrome” and “The Parallax View,” entitled “Broadcast Signal Intrusion” feels stuck in the wrong dimension. “Glee” breakout Harry Shum Jr plays James, an AV guru working in a basement archive logging old TV broadcasts on VHS circa 1999. His lifestyle has drastically changed since his wife, Hannah, disappeared three years prior, and the solitary confinement of his job keeps him distracted from repressed trauma.


But when a random news-program gets interrupted by a strange figure wearing a knock-off Guys Fawk mask spewing gibberish, James goes down the rabbit hole of paranoia to locate answers. Turns out, this strange signal was one of three possible intrusions starting in 1987 that yielded no results from the FBI and FCC investigations. This sends James on a wild goose chase to track down the infamous “Night Pirate” who he believes took the women in his broadcasts’ hostage.


“Broadcast Signal Intrusion” presents a compelling theory to build on, but the mystery element is lacking in execution. A shame considering Gentry, who helmed a great horror franchise “The Signal” - has a keen eye for creating moody tension and Ben Lovett’s original score nabs massive style points. But there’s too many undeveloped elements and characters - Shum does solid work, except his written arch stalls at the finish line - to make this a grimy and exploitative journey worth taking.


Grade: C


BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION debuted at SXSW Film Festival and is currently seeking distribution.


THE SPINE OF NIGHT

An expansive fantasy epic from Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King - inspired from the works of Ralph Bakshi and illustrator Frank Frazetta - “The Spine of Night” yarks back to the glory day of pristine adult animation ala “Heavy Metal.” Part “Game of Thrones'' and “The Lord of the Rings,” “Spine of Night” spans centuries, and follows Tzod (voiced by Lucy Lawless) an enchantress warrior whose land was stolen from her. She recounts the journey to The Guardian (Richard E Grant), a soothsayer who protects a coveted blue flower laced with enough magical firepower to decimate entire civilizations. That flower becomes a crucial regintier in a decade’s long battle between Tzod and Ghal-Sur (Jordan Douglas Smith) an evil sorcerer hellbent on world domination.


“The Spine of Night” is a gorgeous and intoxicating slice of world-building that speaks directly to the “Dungeons and Dragons” crowd. Some of the flat, rotoscoped, animation strips depth and texture to the surroundings, but the voice cast - rounded out by Joe Manganiello, Betty Gabriel, and Patton Oswalt - and mythological lore create a memorable fantasy experience.


Grade: B


THE SPINE OF NIGHT debuted at the SXSW Film Festival and is currently seeking distribution.


ALIEN ON STAGE

Lucy Harvel and Danielle Kummer’s documentary “Alien on Stage” follows the creativity of an amateur UK theatre troupe named Paranoid Dramatics who created and produced a stage adaptation of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic “Alien.” The group’s ingenuity landed them a spot at London’s West End, which has been producing the show for years. “Alien on Stage” follows the Dramatics - a group made up of mostly bus drivers - as they deviate from their yearly and traditional Christmas pantomime performance to create a comedically staged version of “Alien.”


Complete with custom made props and scenery (they actually construct a chest-bursting Xenamorph puppet) the Dramatics initial premiere of “Alien” in Dorset was a massive flop (some 20 people showed up) but it inspired Harvel and Kummer to successfully launch a crowdfunding campaign that got “Alien” on stage in London to a rambunctious and appreciative sold-out crowd.


The heart of “Alien on Stage” is about family with this tight knit group of interesting characters - who come from all walks of life - creating an environment in which they can succeed. Like watching a modern day “Waiting for Guffman,” Harvel and Kummer’s hilarious and insightful behind-the-scenes documentary gets style points for wholesomeness.


Grade: B+


ALIEN ON STAGE debuted at the SXSW Film Festival and is currently seeking distribution.


All above photos were provide by the SXSW Film Festival