High above the atmosphere the satellite transmits to the cities below, a dozen channels received across the continent, news, sitcoms, televangelists, documentaries, special interest material and a myriad of mismatched films, science fiction, horror, romantic comedies and pornography, while in the darkness an old man sits in his chair and flicks back and forth, seeking not the story but the truth hidden between the flashes of static.
There is the news report of a strange symbols appearing in the town of Santa Mira, interrupted by a live feed from a home invasion where a hostage has been taken, while elsewhere there is an interview with Rachel Roth, granddaughter of cult horror director Franklin Roth who vanished the same night his studio burnt down, while by coincidence his final film Transmission is also being broadcast, depicting a spaceship returning to Earth and preparing to transmit its findings to the cities below…
Written and directed by Michael Hurst, Transmission is not so much a film within a film but many films with a film, the footage of supposedly lost film Finding the Void, retitled Transmission upon its rediscovery, most closely resembling the claustrophobic science fiction horror deep space rescue mission gone wrong of Event Horizon while Roth’s earlier films Within the Woods, The Haunting of Veronica and Satan’s Slave Masters are more conventional horror, the first a nod to the short which became Evil Dead, and also a film about film itself.
Spliced with this is the investigation of Rachel (Nicole Cinaglia) into the grandfather she realises she barely knew (Weird Science’s Vernon Wells), a man who travelled the world seeking information on pagan rituals and the activities of a cult called Il Percorso Infinito, “the Endless Path,” and who vanished the night his studio burned down, while events on the news reach a crisis and a children’s puppet show occasionally pops up to offer assurance that the pieces of the jigsaw will fit together to form a whole.
The fragmentary nature a bold artistic decision which might be offputting to some who prefer their cinema more linear than challenging, to dismiss Transmission would be a mistake, for while the story told across multiple feeds of contrasting genre and production style is not particularly original, Hallowe’en III, Prince of Darkness and Sleep No More nodding appreciatively from the shadows, the presentation is cleverly structured and arranged, each of the parts offering hints which tie them to the others and clues to the whole.
Relying on the hypnotic lure of the television screen and the propensity to seek patterns within information, the crosscutting ensuring there is no downtime in which to become distracted, while the influences are worn boldly and some of the in-film performances are genuinely awful – likely deliberately, considering Frank T Roth’s dubious oeuvre – it is a daring experiment whose world premiere at FrightFest can be regarded as successful.