You know, long gone are the days when a horror film just wanted to be a good horror film. These days – with the widespread availability of digital equipment – any Tom, Dick, or Harry can pursue the dream of becoming an auteur, but why is it every horror film coming down the pike these days has to be a concept film of some variety? Why is it every one must make use of this trick or that technique or the other storytelling device? Why can’t films just tell a good story and have that be enough?
That’s the question I found myself asking at the end of BANSHEE CHAPTER. Hint: I liked the film. The negative: it tried too hard to be something that it probably could never be. Instead of going for broke with various tale-spinning devices, writer/director Blair Erickson really should’ve clocked some serious mileage in keeping this thing a lean, mean, scream-producing machine.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the packaging: “On the trail of a missing friend (Michael McMillian) who had been experimenting with mind-altering drugs, a young journalist (Katia Winter) – aided by a rogue counter-culture writer (Ted Levine) – finds herself drawn into the dangerous world of top-secret government chemical research and the mystery of a disturbing radio signal of unknown origin.”
I’ll try to be as precise as I can in detailing what I didn’t like about BANSHEE CHAPTER, but, as I said above, let me get this out of the way first and foremost: I liked it. Better said, I enjoyed it. Writer/director Blair Erickson has tapped a lot of veins here – conspiracy, found footage, documentary, ghost stories, etc. – and they get mixed up in a pleasant enough concoction that I honestly figure it hard to not have fun with the experience. At 90 minutes, it clocks in at a length that’s pretty perfect to convey the story in here … but it’s really bloated on narrative trickery.
For example, I thought CHAPTER was going to fall into the category of the ‘found footage film’ right out of the gate. Indeed, those first scenes are constructed from archival footage surrounding the US government’s disclosure of a real-life scandal – the MK Ultra experiments – and then it segues nicely into Anne Roland’s narration. As those moments tick on and the reporter’s investigation begins to deepen, CHAPTER starts to take on an almost documentary feel, gradually leaving behind the ‘found’ premise and instead going-for-broke in what starts to look like a real-time expose. However, as those moments give way and suddenly lead to a broader story, I started to see that the feature settled into a groove where Erickson decided the best way to spin the yarn was to combine these elements along with little more than a good old-fashioned ghost story.
Now, I started to get tired of the techniques.
There’s nothing wrong with a little misdirection. In fact, many very good pictures (not just horror ones, mind you) make ample use of established plot devices to lead you in one direction while concealing the big reveal for maximum effectiveness later. The problem here is that because of the elaborate set-up – because we, as an audience, are treated to Roland’s near-exhaustive set-up (we’re led to believe that she’s recounting these events much after-the-fact) – we feel the rug pulled out from under us when the last scene – that big reveal – makes the set-up improbable. Emilio Estevez ruined a respectable shot as a film director early in his career with a similar convention: he set his film up as the narrator, telling the audience about his life of crime, but, as the story unfolds, we find out that he’s killed in the film’s closing moments. Uh … so who was that telling us the story all along? His ghost? His spirit from the beyond looking down from Heaven? Trickery of this sort has to be tried with greater restraint; otherwise, the fabric of an already fragile universe comes apart at the seams.
BANSHEE CHAPTER isn’t a failure. Rather, it’s pretty pleasant, and Katia Winter is awesome to look at for 90 minutes. I just expected more of this to make sense in the end, and it didn’t.
BANSHEE CHAPTER  is produced by Sunchaser Entertainment, Before the Door Pictures, and Favorit Film. DVD distribution is being handled by XLRator Media. As for the technical specifications, yeah, the film looks and sounds fairly solid, though I’ll admit in advance that I had to really crank the volume up on this one (mixed low?) in order to hear everything, and, even then, some of the dialogue sounded a bit muddled (some I suspect was deliberate but others not so much). As for the special features? Well, the packaging promises an in-depth look at the making of the film, but the few shorts here clocked in at about three minutes a piece, and they really offered up no great substance at all. I found them disappointing, only because I would’ve liked to know more. I always do.
RECOMMENDED. BANSHEE CHAPTER is probably everything you expect it to be. First, it’s a horror film. Second, it’s a horror film. And, lastly, it’ll always just be a horror film. It’s a fairly clever picking-and-choosing of what works best in horror, and it’s liberally spreading it all around in such a way as to, basically, delight (and scare!) the audience. It’s a carnival thrill ride. It’s meant to be enjoyed in the moment, remembered while you’re putting it away, and (most likely) forgotten tomorrow. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you expect it to mean more than that? Well, then you’re probably barking up the wrong tree.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at XLRator Media provided me with a DVD copy of BANSHEE CHAPTER by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.