The Banshee Chapter Reviews
I will say though, that it took me a full third of the movie to realise it wasn't meant to be found-footage.
The Banshee Chapter does a good job of upping the tension on a regular basis and not overdoing it on the scares so when they do come, it fucking works!
Being loosely based on something that actually happened also peaks your interest . Winner of 'Scariest Film' at Total Films Frightfest, The Banshee Chapters real and gritty feel adds another dimension, making it a must see for horror and thriller fans alike.
Setup and Plot
Journalist Anne Roland's college friend James has gone missing. Renny, the last man to see him alive has also gone missing after being interviewed extensively by police. Anne pursues; her editor helps by connecting her to gonzo journalist/personality Thomas Blackburn. She hopes that Blackburn will increase her knowledge of the drug that James ingested as an experiment for his next book.
During a visit to Blackburn's house, Anne meets his chemist friend Callie, who has synthesized some of the drug. The trio drinks smaller quantities than James took, but the effects are still strong. When Blackburn and Anne wake up from the drug's knockout punch, Callie is nowhere to be found.
Interleaved with the contemporary story are bits of archival footage that chronicle government experiments with some similar effects. The electricity is temporarily lost, screaming ensues, the patients get free of restraints, and the patients are not to be found immediately.
Blackburn and Anne find Callie's lab, which contains a number of clues. Will this be enough to let Anne solve the riddle of James' disappearance?
Cinematography: 6/10 There was a lot of archival film (black and white, low resolution, blurry) and shaky cam footage (variable, but mostly bad). However, unlike many other directors, Erickson seemed to know quite well how to use bad footage to increase the feeling of threat and isolation that thrillers need.
Sound: 8/10 The music and foley were good for increasing suspense and creepiness.
Acting: 8/10 Katia Winter and Ted Levine had a large percent of all the spoken lines. Both of them did fine jobs.
Screenplay: 8/10 The script was not perfect, but did keep my attention. The plot moved forward quickly enough that my usual strong disgust for found film was not invoked. The providing of just enough clues to keep going was well done, and the exposition of motivations was nicely executed. About the time that I thought the film was more of an adventure/thriller, the ending reminded me that it was truly a horror movie. Well done.
The story in "The Banshee Chapter" creates an almost instantly captivating tale around urban legends that arose after it was made public of the black ops experiments the Government implemented on citizens during the 60's and 70's using LSD. That is a conspiracy lore ideology that I find myself trolling the internet reading. This element weaves eerily effortlessly into the Lovecraft world of horror, particularly the story surrounding the scientist that creates an antenna that becomes a gateway between worlds ultimately allowing both sides to move between. "The Banshee Chapter" pushes out a dark, nightmare that stays serious, flows nicely, and maintains a chilling atmosphere from start to finish without becoming boring.
The acting in this film is pretty stellar, not too melodramatic or forced but so polished that it just seems over-rehearsed. The transitions between the found footage scenes and the standard third person point-of-view are balanced and move smoothly without the effects being made into some big production. By which I mean the scenes move in and out without seeming pointless or just "stuck in" the film with no purpose other than to cash in on the "footage" craze. "The Banshee Chapter" takes the two styles and mixes them with ease which makes the film suspenseful and chilling. The direction and character development felt authentic and created an actual connection between me and the story, something that often times falls to the wayside in "found footage" driven films.
The special effects and soundtrack in "The Banshee Chapter" both work nicely in creating a chilling, and entertaining atmosphere with moments that are gripping, and intense while feeling creepy as heck. The special effects are the usual gimmicks and tricks to create shock moments and suspense but the director maintains control of the elements so nothing looks cheap or pointless, or more importantly lacking in fright. I jumped several times while watching this movie. The soundtrack and sound effects create an overture to the creepy atmosphere that the acting and story develops, really pulling me into the complete story. Mostly instrumental with some vocal effects, the soundtrack is both timeless and powerful. "The Banshee Chapter" is a fun, fright-filled, horror story that I found to be true to the genre without seeming hokey.
I'll start with a few negatives off the bat. As I said, it doesn't bring much to the table as far as originality. It appears to be loosely based on H.P Lovecraft's "From Beyond" (which is directly referenced in the film), but when I say 'loosely' I mean 'barely discernible'. Despite this, it definitely maintains its Lovecraftian vibe. Lesser known films such as 'Pulse', 'Jacobs Ladder', 'The Objective' and 'White Noise' have some fingerprints here, as well as a few nods to Japanese style horror films. Some issues with the script and subpar acting leak out in a few instances, but nothing terrible. One major complaint I have here is the cinematography. Part traditional part found footage, but you can't ever tell because the traditional portion is just as shaky and jarring as the found footage. Lastly and perhaps most importantly in my list of drawbacks is a fairly large degree of what the hell. There is very little in the way of explanation or reason. Things just sort of happen. It is as if many of the scenes were written independently and then a connective plot device was manufactured to tie them in. I am a fan of leaving some things open to your audience, but there are simply too many half cooked ideas floating around that are never even close to explained.
All these negatives aside, there is still a pretty good movie here. A slow burn style story method really works to amp up the tension, making the most of the limited action it has. Just like the Lovecraft story on which it is based, its creeping and smothering atmosphere instills a sense of pure dread without hardly doing anything. It exemplifies a common thread throughout all of Lovecraft's work: the human race is an infant in a world of ancient and slumbering evil. Also like Lovecraft, the scientifically analytical lens through which the story is viewed is just as creepy as the more traditional scares. Speaking of, the scares it has up its sleeve are legit, and the effects (while scant) are well done and quite freaky.
The acting is pretty strong in general, but I have to single out the underutilized Ted Levine. His Hunter S. Thompson knockoff is a great deal of fun. He really throws himself in headfirst, and you can tell he enjoyed himself in this role. While he is the only recognizable actor here, the rest of the cast is solid. A few bad moments from Katia Winter and Jenny Gabrielle aside, everyone holds their own quite well. The film is in pretty good hands technically (aside from the previously stated cinematography issues). Minimal music, great use of backlighting, original and creepy sound editing generally play up and ultimately mask some of the films shortcomings.
While no one will ever mistake this film for a masterpiece, 'The Banshee Chapter' is a creepy film with plenty going for it. In a relatively down year for horror, this film can lay claim to being in the upper echelon, once again showing that the scariest thing is the thing we don't see. While it isn't a good adaptation of Lovecraft's novel, its aura is abundantly clear. Pop this one on sometime. You could do a lot worse.