Film Review: Banshee Chapter

Copyright: XLrator Media/101 Films
It’s odd that crazy, but very real things like Project MKUltra aren’t more often seen in horror films. They are present in many conspiracy theory movies, but even those are more interested in the ideas like the Manchurian candidate, and the usefulness of using LSD, hypnosis and stuff like that as a means to an end an end. Banshee Chapter is one of those rare films (maybe even unique in this regard) that look at the pure mindless lunacy behind the idea of using hard drugs to achieve anything meaningful. 

Film opens with James, a struggling young writer who managed to get a hold of a substance called DMT-19 (dimethyltryptamine). He believes that dimethyltryptamine had been used in the MKUltra, although he doesn’t know why, and decides to try it on himself. His friend records the experience that soon becomes terrifying. The tape cuts short, and in a matter of days, both men are pronounced missing.

The story follows a reporter named Anne (played by Katia Winter), who went to college with James, and is determined to find out what happen to him. She travels to the southern part of the United States, and soon starts to learn about mysterious radio broadcasts that are somehow connected to everything. Up to this point, the film is a solid horror, but nothing remarkable. But then, a character named Thomas Blackburn, a washed up writer from the hippie era gets on Anne’s radar.

He is played perfectly by Ted Levine, and resembles Hunter S. Thompson in many aspects (the attitude, guns, drugs, booze, and even his ambitions to become an elected official). His entrance into the story is a major turning point, and after that, Banshee Chapter becomes a real little horror gem.

Blair Erickson directed the film, and did it in an impressive way, not afraid to mix found footage style with the standard third person point of view. But Lady Luck also did her charm, allowing Levine and Winter to develop a great onscreen chemistry. In the first half, Winter seems detached and uninteresting, but when the crazed Blackburn appears, she also raises her game.

Erickson filmed in many deserted locations, like fallout shelters and abandoned condominiums, where the exchanges between the main characters do most of the job in keeping us watching. But frights still creep in (sometimes by the creepy sounds alone), as they are both stalked by unknown figures, drawn somehow by the dimethyltryptamine. This doesn’t deter Blackburn from making crude jokes and observations, which give the film an clever sense of dark humor.

Erickson, and the writer of the film’s story Daniel J. Healy borrowed a lot of the atmosphere and logic from H. P. Lovecraft universe where advanced technology, human psyche, government cover-up’s and unintelligible evil from another plane of existence secretly interlock in domain of everyday life, getting unknowing people hurt in the crossfire. They created and presented this complex system with modest budget and on a short time schedule. Still, the resulting film doesn’t even remotely look campy or silly, which is a big accomplishment on its own.

Blair Erickson managed to put Hunter S. Thompson and H. P. Lovecraft in the same script. That alone would be a big thing in my book, but making it an interesting, fun and a gripping debut film is a small horror miracle.

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