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The Last Broadcast

Directed by Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler

Written by Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler

Starring Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler, David Beard, James Seward

Produced by Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler

Not Rated

85 minutes

****

Oh, what a great day this is for me. I’ve been waiting for this sucker to come out since the late nineties, when it first emerged, and I bought a copy on VHS.

Let me lay it out for you, here…this is a moment of history staring you in the face. “The Last Broadcast” is the first ever totally digital film ever released, so saith the IMDB. Shot digitally, edited digitally, and released via digital projection—not so much as one inch of film was used in the creation of the movie.

Which is a nifty achievement, make no mistake—but if it doesn’t stack up plotwise, it’s not going to be worth your time to watch, whether it was shot digitally, on film, or on a print of solid gold.

So what we have here plotwise is a small-time cable access show, “Fact or Fiction”, that’s stumbled onto the biggest story it’s ever dealt with. “Fact or Fiction” is basically the same kind of show you see on the Sci-Fi Channel every so often—“In Search Of” is an excellent example—that deals in the exploration and occasional debunking of paranormal myth and mystery. “Fact or Fiction” is about to go after the Jersey Devil, the mystery thing haunting the Pine Barrens in New Jersey . And they’ve gone missing. The man authorities think killed them, Jim Suerd, is on trial, and that’s where we come in.

See, “The Last Broadcast” is a movie shot in reverse—filmmaker David Leigh is reconstructing what lead up to the disappearance and murder of the “Fact or Fiction” team. And as we go through the movie, we’ll rapidly find out that what most people think happened to the “Fact or Fiction” crew doesn’t even begin to mesh with reality.

The less said about that the better—there are going to be a whole lot of plot twists, red herrings, and other assorted lunacy that we’re going to wind up picking through in order to discover the truth.

Probably one of the first things you’re going to notice about “The Last Broadcast” is the absolutely incredible similarity between it and “The Blair Witch Project”, which was released a year later. Believe me, this hasn’t been lost on a whole lot of people—Google it. The sheer amount of speculation is nuts. I know that, once or twice, I’ve referred to “The Last Broadcast” as the spiritual father to “The Blair Witch Project,” although in retrospect, considering how the son turned out—a rich bastard with no redeeming values whatsoever aside from a slick marketing campaign and a cheesy franchise that actually managed to spawn video games—maybe the father would rather not acknowledge the son.

But don’t let that comparison stop you. “The Last Broadcast” is amazing stuff. Even the tech references are fairly up to date despite their age—five minutes and forty one seconds in gives us possibly one of the first references to EVP in the description of “otherworldly sounds” recorded on tape. A call-in section is hosted through IRC, which plenty of people still use.

The obvious chemistry between Avalos and Weiler—acting as sound-alike hosts Avkast and Wheeler—is a thing of beauty, and makes the final product all the more believable. Where some people were fooled by the intense marketing around “The Blair Witch Project,” I’d bet there’ll be just as many if not more who’d wonder if this wasn’t an honest-to-God documentary about a couple goofs on a struggling public access cable show who disappeared one night looking for the Jersey Devil.

The show itself is a comic gem—nine minutes and twenty four seconds gives us our first look at “Fact or Fiction,” complete with metal folding chairs, xylophone-inspired theme music, and two guys in goofy Western-style shirts dancing around the set holding big grey stick mikes and announcing the show. It’s two dorks in a basement doing a show about ghosts—you might well have one on your local public access cable.

“The Last Broadcast” does a fantastic job of slowly building the suspense and the queasy, unnerving terror up from its slow but amiable start. In less than an hour, we go from two dorks in a basement to a mindbending, pulsepounding murder mystery.

The ending is just amazing. Nothing short. An absolutely incredible twist takes place here, and when you see it, it will be a phenomenal close to an already terrific movie. I’m using a whole lot of superlatives, but trust me, they’re not used in vain.

The special features include Avalos and Weiler’s commentary from both 1999 and 2006, English and Spanish subtitles, behind the scenes footage from production, post-production, and distribution, as well as a featurette from 1999 about the legend of the Jersey Devil.

All in all, part documentary, part murder mystery, part legend, and all fantastic—“The Last Broadcast” is a part of indie film history that also makes a great watch. See it for the great plot, or see it for the touchstone of history, but see it.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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