Banshee Chapter – Film Review Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013

Banshee Chapter

Banshee Chapter

October 27, 2013   Most Americans today can be forgiven for being a little skeptical in not putting their complete trust in how their government is run given the recent shutdown debacle. With so much partisan politics grinding things down inside the beltway, the bedside manor we equate to politicians has just taken a full frontal drubbing in the eyes of the nation. Yet, this pales in comparison to the covert human experiments the US government inflicted on its unsuspecting citizens during the fifties and sixties. Project MK ULTRA was eventually declassified and the full scope of this deception was revealed. A subject matter of this magnitude is pregnant with potential for the horror genre if handled with the care it requires. Unfortunately, as fertile as this subject matter appears to be in Banshee Chapter, very little seems to grow here and that’s a shame.

The film opens with an impressive array of cringe-worthy declassified footage showing clandestine MK ULTRA experiments that visually assault you. It cements these atrocities with the then sitting President, Bill Clinton going on record offering up an apology for the CIA’s MK ULTRA program of the sixties. Fast forward we see struggling novelist James Hirsh (Michael McMillian), replicating one of these mind control experiments by ingesting the military grade chemical DMT-19 with friend Renny Seegan (Alex Gianopoulos), filming for posterity. The eerie sounds of a cryptic short wave radio grows louder with the shuddering cut-to of James’s disfigured face before he vanishes.   Renny is left to account for the disappearance at the police precinct but soon he too falls victim to all things Houdini.  Investigative journalist and close friend Anne Roland (Katia Winter), picks up the last know details of James as she is drawn into a top-secret government research laboratory to find out what happened to her friend.

Director Blair Erickson establishes a strong narrative in the first act with a smart combination of archive and found footage to set the tension and drive the mystery.  The mystery is further deepens as Anne learns that James received the DMT-19 from ‘friends in Colorado’.  Anne makes a connection to the counterculture novelist and recreational drug user Thomas Blackburn (played by Silences of the Lambs, Ted Levine), who once published a novel called Friends in Colorado.  The whodunit moxy of Anne has the right combination to match wits with Thomas Blackburn and their hardscrabble chemistry on screen is the engine that drives this thriller through a trail of increasingly disturbing new leads that slowly uncovers the horrifying truth behind the drug trials. Banshee Chapter offers up a flurry of disturbing eye shrouding images worthy of multiple look-aways and for this it succeeds.  But, the strong opening series of creepy volleys only served as the end game to endless ventures down so many dimly lit corridors, military science facilities and abandon basements with a new mind-numbing face or apparition giving us the proverbial eye-shrouding moments is not nearly enough.  The over worked radio transmission device for fear becomes a vehicle for frustration and predictability in the end.

Verdict 3.5 out of 5:  Try as they may, the US government will never rid themselves of this abhorrent chapter in their history.  The true life horror behind this period adds an interesting subtext to Banshee Chapter that mines the labyrinth of depravity perpetrated by the government.  Although Levine and Winter work hard to elevate Erickson’s vision into the league of other MK ULTRA classics such as The Manchurian Candidate and Jacob’s Ladder, this narrative would not support anything more elaborate than a quick fright at best.

Final Thought: Sometimes the greatest thing to fear is the government itself.

Genre: Horror, Thriller Country: German, USA Language: English Director: Blair Erickson Writer: Blair Erickson, Daniel J. Healy (story) Producer:  Zachery Quinto Runtime: 87 Minutes Release Date: October, 2013 Cast: Ted Levine, Katia Winter, Michael McMillian, Monique Candelaria, Jenny Gabrielle, Chad Brummett, David Midthunder, Cyd Schulte, Vivian Nesbitt, J.D Garfield, Alex Gianopoulos, William Sterchi, Ben Samuels

Review – John Dash
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