Movie Review - Banshee Chapter
It's rare for me to walk out of a film with mixed feelings. I tend to either love or hate something. But when I exited Arena Cinema's screening of Banshee Chapter, I really couldn't pinpoint whether or not I liked it. I am aware that may seem weird, but I am split right down the middle. On one hand, the film was well-made and looked polished, had an extremely interesting and innovative concept, and provided a ton of jump scares. But on the other hand, there's Thomas Blackburn. Let me explain.
When Anne Roland's (Katie Winter - Sleepy Hollow, Dexter) friend, Michael McMillian, (True Blood) suddenly disappears while researching an ominous government research chemical, she decides to track him down. After investigating a strange radio frequency of unknown origin in the desert, she crosses paths with Michael's source of the chemical - famed outlaw author, Thomas Blackburn. Concealing her identity as a reporter, she joins him at his home for a psychedelic trip. But Blackburn sees through the ruse and plays a joke on her. Suddenly the drug kicks in and the three are terrorized by the same radio frequency and a powerful force that seems to be closing in.
I don't want to ruin the end for you in case you decide to see it, so I will leave it there. The subject matter is loosely based on actual government testing of psychedelics on citizens, in fact beatnik hero Ken Keesey famously volunteered for these tests. And there are many accounts of the drug DMT and other chemicals thought to be derived from the human brain that have been extensively researched, so this served as an extremely effective vehicle for a horror film. And frankly the mystery radio frequency is one of the creepier moments I have seen in a found footage style horror film since the first Paranormal Activity. Add to that a few really well timed jump scares and you have all the makings of a great horror film.
But that leads me to my one and only issue with the movie, but it's an issue that destroyed the film for me. The character of Thomas Blackburn is merely a cartoon caricature of Hunter S. Thompson, even co-opting his famous line, "Buy the ticket, take the ride." But despite the casting of the very talented Ted Levine (The Bridge) in the role, it comes off feeling like a cheap gag that doesn't work. And it just keeps going. Perhaps as a massive fan of Dr. Thompson, I am not being partial. But for me it was the downfall of the entire film. In addition they let some really corny dialogue slide that didn't sit well with me.
I think they writer and director made a flawed mistake using this interpretation of the character, which is sad, because I think they actually had a pretty solid film on their hands. I don't want to give the impression I hated the movie, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it.