Journalist Anne Roland explores the disturbing links behind her friend’s sudden disappearance, an ominous government research chemical, and a disturbing radio broadcast of unknown origin.
If I’ve never mentioned it before I’ll mention it now: The Black Saint is really sick and tired of found footage movies & their ilk. The Blair Witch Project went & created a damned cottage industry when it went and made a bajillion dollars on a micro budget. Filmmakers (AKA everyone with a decent video camera & some unemployed friends) came out of the woodwork with their own versions of found footage material and nearly all of it sucked donkey balls. I know this because 90% of the films my editor sends me to review are silly FF movies.
So you’ll please forgive my insolence & lack of enthusiasm when I popped in BANSHEE CHAPTER and realized that it too was just another entry into the inexplicably popular FF pantheon. Actually it’s more of a semi found footage movie. It uses both “Fly On The Wall” film making along with found footage and first time director Blair Erickson molds the two styles into a solid little low budget thriller that is surprisingly potent & scary!
The film opens with someone named James Hirsch (Michael Mcmillian) being recorded as he ingests a substance that he received from “friends in Colorado”. James has been researching a government program from the 50’s that used unwitting volunteers to allow themselves to take that same substance which resulted in making them all lose their minds. The (apparently real) research study was called MKUltra and what James is about to drink is the same stuff that was used in the original study. A few hours after drinking it down he begins to hear an odd series of noises coming from his radio, a hallucination inducing mix of a countdown being recited in different languages & assorted odd boops and beeps. And then he senses that someone is just outside the door, ominously intoning “Someone’s here…” James vanishes and his poor friend who was filming the whole mess disappears 3 days later.
And then BANSHEE CHAPTER gets really scary.
James’ girlfriend Anna (Katia Winter) then begins her own investigation as to his what happened to him & his whereabouts. She manages to trace the drug back to gonzo author/journalist Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine) and enlists his help in finding out what the truth really is behind that secret government program and what happened to James. But in true horror film fashion, what she finds out might just kill her.
And then BANSHEE CHAPTER goes and adds a generous dollop of creepy to the already established really scary.
What BANSHEE CHAPTER does exceedingly well is keep its audience in a near constant state of dread. Literally as soon as the film started I felt the darkness in my living room seem to react to it, it got darker in my room all of a sudden, almost as if the darkness was…growing. And it manages to maintain that sense of dread throughout it’s perfectly calibrated 87 minute running time. What’s even better is that the scares start up near immediately! It had me jumping out of my seat after only a few minutes had gone by and it was just getting started…
Katia Winter & Ted Levine make for a pretty good pair of conspiracy hunting gumshoes, they have a natural & easy going banter working between them that helps give their characters some emotional weight. Levine’s character is an obvious (& maybe a tad overwrought) take on Hunter S. Thompson but I won’t hold that against either him or the film because he pulls it off deftly. Winter’s Anna almost looks too smart to be putting herself through such a daunting task but the script (written by Erickson) makes sure to feature a scene in which she explains how important it is to her that she gets to the truth. The fact that she was really easy on the eyes also kept me interested in how her story was going to play out, she’s too cute to die dammit!!
The unnerving sounds that emanate from radios whenever someone takes the mystery fluid became a moment that I began to dread soon after hearing it. The sound design is genius and I really think that it’s something that is going to be remembered years from now. It’s truly unique and it perfectly introduces the upcoming dread whenever its unearthly cacophony begins. There aren’t any major special effects to speak of here but Erickson uses his locations (The film was shot in New Mexico) to their fullest efficacy and the vast, wide open plains on display are both majestic & foreboding. He also didn’t use too much in the way of lighting using instead using the ambient lights of whatever location he was shooting at. Office lights, street lights, building lights & torches was all that the used to light the film but all of it works perfectly and gives the film a surreal appearance throughout. I guess he was trying to satiate his inner Kubrick…
You can look at BANSHEE CHAPTER as either a conspiracy theory gone awry flick, a hallucinatory head game or a straight up horror flick, what’s truly amazing is that it works as either or all of those descriptions. It utilizes tropes from all three of those genres and mixes them up into a heady and potent brew that will no doubt scare the crap outta you on more than a few occasions! It does get a little sloppy & perhaps a bit convoluted in the middle but it never slows down and I don’t think you’re gonna notice the confusing bits too much.
You’re gonna be on the edge of your seat way too much to notice them, I guarantee it. It’s one of the best horror films of the year.
BANSHEE CHAPTER – 4 1/2 out of 5 shrouds.