Banshee Chapter Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by XLrator Media
Written and directed by Blair Erickson
Story by Daniel Healy
2013, 87 minutes, Rated R
Released on January 10th, 2014
Katia Winter as Anne Roland
Ted Levine as Thomas Blackburn
Michael McMillian as James Hirsch
Ted Levine is the f*ckin’ man and The Banshee Chapter showcases his charm and charisma beautifully. It’s kind of a shame he’s not the main character.
Investigative journalist Anne Roland (Katia Winter) is searching for her missing friend James, whose last correspondence indicated he was testing out an experimental drug procured from shadowy government labs. The footage James’ friend shot while James tested 150 ml dimethyltriptamine, or DMT-19, reveals something went horribly, disastrously, possibly supernaturally wrong, and Anne is determined to find out what that something was. When she traces James’ supplier back to notorious anti-establishment author and burnout Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine), the investigation spins rapidly out of control and into a terrifying fight to understand what’s after them before it destroys them.
Banshee Chapter is frightening: a monster’s only as frightening as we imagine and this film keeps the monster hidden to keep you interested. Which is helpful, since the plot gets pretty convoluted, the storytelling is messy, and the performances aren’t all stellar.
The premise claims that DMT-19 was implemented in the ‘60s as part of those Hey-what-do-you-think-would-happen-if-we-gave-LSD-to-soldiers-? tests and that the chemical is extracted from living and deceased human brains. It turns on parts of the brain that lay dormant during normal activity and the patient becomes hyperaware of things not seen or known before. Hence, they can now see the monster lurking in the wings: The Banshee. Frankly, this explanation is a copout. It would be more fun and engaging if we as viewers didn’t know if they were hallucinating or if there genuinely were creatures communicating with the expanded perceptions of the actors. Just giving us the answer is dull and allows us nowhere to go with rather uninteresting characters and a lead that isn’t quite carrying this movie.
(SPOILERS END; DISAPPOINTMENT DOES NOT)
Winter’s performance is frustrating. She’s rarely comfortable in the role and her delivery is over-rehearsed and hollow. She sounds as though she’s mimicking how she believes a reporter would sound while angry or frightening, but not how she would genuinely feel in the circumstances of Anne. When she shares the screen with Ted Levine, his ease and investment to playing the truth of the moment leaves her in the dust.
Now for the trouble with storytelling: The single handheld camera method makes it difficult to see what exactly is after Anne and Blackburn, which helps to maintain a level of suspense, but in no way helps to tell the story. Successful use of the handheld makes it another character, or rather held by another character that remains unseen but through whose eyes we experience the story. Use of the handheld seems to be an attempt to promote intimacy with these characters (think [REC], Cloverfield, Quarantine, Trollhunter), but as used in Banshee Chapter it doesn’t make sense. The shifts in chronology only lend to the chaos. When we jump back in time to see the origin of the DMT-19 chemicals we are shown intimate video of the scientists and their subjects but given no explanation on how we are able to see this footage when we’re supposed to be experiencing this horror through Anne Roland. It lessens her story and smacks of the director and/or writer lack of confidence in Winter and us as an audience; that we could understand what was happening without it being spelled out to the point of tedium.
That sounds harsh, but my 2014 resolutions are to drink more and be honest. This movie wasn’t that great and half a bottle of rosé couldn’t convince me otherwise. Happy New Year.