The Last Broadcast (1998)

The Last Broadcast is indie in its purest form, and a cult classic in its truest sense. It's the first movie (not just horror movie) to be recorded all in digital equipment, and is unquestionably one of the pioneers of the found footage genre. The film was made for less than $1,000, but does it punch above that astonishingly minuscule weight class? Well, check out the trailer below and continue along for our thoughts on the flick. As always, spoilers abound below, so beware.

If you haven't seen this movie, you can also see it in its entirety in YouTube. Here you go.

 
 

Jake: The Last Broadcast. It’s about time we got to this one. Frankly, given Mark’s found footage fanboyism, it’s a surprise it held out this long. I mean, this is the start of found footage as we know it and the first movie EVER to be made totally digitally.

Jack: Well hold on a second there buddy. You’re forgetting about Cannibal Holocaust, much like you forgot about Dre. Motherfucker. Anyway, that movie came out a full 18 years before this thing . . . and then nothing fucking happened in found footage until this movie I guess. But still.

Jake: Yeah, it was ahead of its time. The Last Broadcast, on the other hand, struck while the iron was hot as fuck. Let’s take you back to 1998 for a minute. What was popular in 1998?

Jack: Something something blue dress something? You know what? I don’t have it in me to make an even vaguely political joke at the moment. I’ll just leave that there. You know what? Fuck you, what do you got from ‘98?

Jake: As a response to that question I'm just going to go ahead and leave this here:

 
 

Still Jake: Oh, also, the fucking internet. That was popular. How about Geocities? Remember your first experience with Windows 98? Shit changed your life, amigo.

Jack: Fuck yeah I do man. I also remember getting AOL cds from the grocery store and then using them for 100 free hours of sweet, sweet AOL goodness. You know, all the 56k action you can handle. After you get through one of the worst sounds in history that is. And chat rooms. That shit was all about chat rooms man.

Jake: And that’s what this movie is about. Taking suggestions you get from internet chat rooms and trying to execute on them for your bullshit, public access show on general paranormality you run with your slacker friend. It’s very 90’s in that way. Is there really anything else to glean from the plot?

Jack: Well . . . most of it. You left out like, most of the plot. This thing is presented to the viewer as a documentary, well a fake one, a “mock-documentary” if you will. The film is shot and narrated by David Leigh, and everything you see (for the most part) is either his footage or the footage from this 90’s public access show about which he’s making a documentary.

Jake: It’s here that the movie really exceeds. It’s documentary structure gives it the ability to spoon-feed the viewer bits and pieces of the content by, fittingly, having bits and pieces of the found footage be restored to a viewable format. It’s a pretty cool concept, and I found it plenty immersive.

Jack: I’m not so sure I agree with you there. It’s well done in that it feels like a fucking boring documentary from the 90’s. I guess it’s immersive in that they made me feel that, but fuck. So the story we’re following is that of some murders that occurred when the cable access show took a fucking psychic out into the pine barrens to find the Jersey Devil. The psychic’s name is Suerd, and the story Leigh is investigating is whether or not Suerd killed the hosts of the show as the police and courts believe. Spoiler, all that really happens out there in the barrens is some stilted dialog, that might have actually been fine, if the Blair Witch Project hadn’t set the standard higher.

Jake: An interesting point to make here is that this movie really isn't about the Jersey Devil. It's just there to frame things up and plant a seed of doubt in the viewer's mind as to what actually happened. The filmmakers throw just enough into the plot to make you wonder if the pieces are going to come together and there will be a paranormal reveal, but it's just a red herring.

Jack: Yeah, and that’s pretty clear right from the get-go. They throw you some shit about how a serrated knife wound could potentially be teeth marks, but I never really thought there was actually a chance this was about a mythical beast.

Jake: As Leigh continues to piece together the events that unfolded that night, the doubt begins to build that Suerd was the one that committed the crime. Sure, he was fuckin’ weird, but the lack of pretty much any real work done to look into the case was kind of egregious. That’s not how law works, is it Jack? Or do you actually just scapegoat the fuck out of people and sit around on your lazy ass drinking shine?

Jack: In the 90’s? You pretty much just do whatever you damn well please. I’ve seen Making a Murderer. And then you go out of your way and try to give a shit and you’ve got an OJ situation on your hands. And no one wants that, not even OJ. To clarify, that is also how it still works, but it’s also how things worked back in the 90’s.

 
Oh, now I made myself sad.

Oh, now I made myself sad.

 

Jake: The other thing I want to bring up here is just how little I know about tape as a video medium. We’re both children of the 80’s, but not too long ago we shat all over The Ring for the sequence where Naomi Watts’ character (I forget her name) stretched the tape to reveal something hidden to the un-sleuthing eye. Well goddamn it if this whole movie isn’t about doing all sorts of crazy shit to video tape. Leigh brings a character named Michelle in exclusively to tape the tape together and do all sorts of shit with magnets to recover the lost images. Not sure how, but… just magnets.

 
 

Jack: I couldn’t tell you why, but this feels more legitimate to me. In both cases, I recognize that I know nothing about tape. But whereas with the Ring I felt like no matter what I know, that could not be how it works, here I just felt like, “sure, why not?” In any case, Michelle, our forensic tech piecing together this video, is doing just crackerjack work, and makes some genuine progress on the thing.

Jake: As the pieces quite literally come together, we learn that Michelle has been able to use her magnet hobby to reveal the face of the killer on the previously unviewable film. Leigh’s documentary states that the authorities will be notified immediately following the reveal, and… whoops.

Jack: Whoops indeed. Because it turns out that the reveal to the authorities will not be made, since Leigh himself is the killer. Damn, if you can’t trust shady self motivated murder-obsessed documentarians who can you trust? And here we get what is by far the worst section of the movie. Because right as the interesting reveal of Leigh being the killer occurs, the perspective inexplicably shifts from found footage to standard 3rd person perspective. Fucking why? Apparently simply because they were too lazy to think of a way to frame it.

Jake: Yeah it is one of the most jarring things I think I’ve ever seen in a movie. A true flush it down the drain sort of moment, and it’s too bad because the scene is actually pretty memorable from a horror perspective. Leigh asphyxiates Michelle in some of the plastic draping used to create her makeshift studio, and it’s some visceral shit. Long takes, realistic looking, and totally quiet sans the noise of the struggle. It’s a fucking shame I was too busy reeling from the terrible shift in perspective to appreciate it.  

Jack: That scene is so affecting. Fuck. It’s terrifically done. Just too bad it’s almost completely ruined by the stupid perspective shift. Then we watch as Leigh takes the body out to the pine barrens, and awkwardly tries to record some of the narration we heard earlier. End of movie. Ratings?

Jake: Wait, I still have one question.

Jack: What?

Jake: Where were they going without ever knowing the way?

Jack: Wise words my friend, wise words.


RATINGS

For 1, think of how you would rate this newscaster’s knowledge of the meaning of the word “canoodle”:

 
 

For 10 - Think of how Marshawn Lynch would rate how much he’s about that action:

 
 

STORY:

Jack: 7 - The story here is the movie’s strongest selling point. The documentary aspect towards the beginning is believable. It feels like a whole bunch of other true crime stuff from the era. And that leads interestingly into the reveal of the host being the real killer. Also I like the way it’s loosely affiliated with the Jersey Devil. But fuck, loses points for not figuring out that perspective shift.

Jake:  - 8: This is a pretty unique story. The presentation is authentic and the way the story unfolds is interesting and keeps you guessing. From a conceptual standpoint, I also really liked the twist ending and in no way saw it coming the first time I watched this.

 

WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:

Jack: 2 - Ugggh. While the documentary seems realistic, it doesn’t seem enjoyable. It’s still like really really boring. Then you get the wondering about the veracity of the tape stuff. Then you get the world-shattering perspective shift with no even attempted explanation. Fuck. Not good.

Jake: - 4: From an execution standpoint, I hated the twist ending. It totally ruined my immersion. If we were rating this on everything that transpired up to that point, I would give it around a 7. But we aren't. And that was bad. There are also some acting issues but I found those to be mostly forgivable and at times even fitting of the low quality, public access nature of the show the characters were making.

 

SCARE-FACTOR:

Jack: 3 - There’s not much scary that goes on in this thing. That’s evidenced by most of it being a documentary. There’s some uncertainty as to what’s going on in the barrens, and the strangling scene is brutal, but that’s all.

Jake:  - 4: The droning quality of Leigh's narration and slow-burn of the unraveling mystery are a bit unsettling. Add to that the tried and true formula of “do shit in the woods at night and it freaks Jake out”, and you have a recipe for a winner. Unfortunately, it was only there in flashes. It's not a scary movie, but it's by no means the least scary film we have watched.

 

EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):

Jack: 5 - Ehhh. On the one hand this film gets tremendous credit for having a budget of less than a grand, but on the other hand, nothing actually looks good. I take that back, the strangling looks good. But that’s it. One thing. I think this is a tilt up for achievement.

Jake:  - 5: Definitely falling on the judicious lack thereof side of the spectrum, I think this movie had the right amount of effects (minimal) for its story. That said, it cost $900 to make, so it’s noteworthy that the end product actually looks pretty good.

 

OVERALL:

Jack: 5 - Does this score indicate how much I enjoyed the experience of watching this movie? No. I enjoyed it less than that. But does this score indicate how impressed I am by this movie? Yes. Fuck you, it’s my rating, and I’m not going back.

Jake:  - 5.5: This movie is more important than it is enjoyable, but unlike some other movies that I put into that category, it's not totally lacking entertainment. I was really interested in how the story would unfold and it mostly delivered, despite obvious issues we have discussed. Props, The Last Broadcast, for winning the race to digital. This is worth a watch.