Jackals Movie Review
Written by Ryan Noble
Released by Tommy Alastra Productions
Directed by Kevin Greutert
Written by Jared Rivet
2017, 87 minutes, Not yet rated.
Frightfest European premiere on 27th August 2017
Stephen Dorff as Jimmy Levine
Deborah Karah Unger as Kathy Powell
Johnathon Schaech as Andrew Powell
Nick Roux as Campbell Powell
Chelsea Ricketts as Samantha
Ben Sullivan as Justin Powell
Jackals is an interesting film; one that starts, in many ways, at the end of a story I'd like to know more about, and at the start of one very long night for the Powell family. Their youngest son, Justin, has abandoned his family for a cult known as the Jackals, who have him deeply brainwashed. It's time to bring him home with the help of a “de-programmer”, though it's even more difficult than they could have imagined. Though, the film lacks the depth of the cult's brainwashing, and I'll tell you why.
Justin doesn't speak all that much throughout the film, and none of the cult members who show up speak at all. Although this lends them a certain air of creepiness when they start to appear around the cabin the family are staying in, it also means that you learn almost nothing about the cult where their son has been brainwashed, or even care all that much about him. It might just be me, but I find that kind of detail interesting and it would have added a little more to the narrative and Justin's character.
Speaking of which, I thought that all of the characters seemed quite lacking in Jackals, and never really found myself rooting for them, with the exception of Justin's girlfriend and newborn child, who felt a little more affected and vulnerable. The family members are sometimes scared and sometimes angry, but never really feel connected to each other. I'd struggle to even put my finger on what it is that keeps them apart... I just couldn't feel the family bond that was no doubt meant to be driving everything, and it kept me equally disconnected from the family and their trauma. Not to mention the fact that the de-programming expert – who used to be a soldier, apparently – is taken out far too early to be given much development himself.
It didn't help that I never really felt like the family were in that much danger inside the cabin, which further removes the tension. I was hoping for a home invasion kind of vibe, similar to The Strangers, but the invasion is left strictly to the mind of the brainwashee. Occasionally, one lone Jackal would try to get through a door or climb in through a window, but it never really feels like they are doing more than toying with the family. They seem to be in more danger from each other and their heightened anger, fear, or shock than the Jackals waiting outside, though that could be because they wait so patiently.
Despite the fact that I would have liked there to be a little more depth and tension in Jackals, that's not to say that it doesn't have some good moments. In fact, once I'd come to terms with the fact that I didn't care all that much about the Powell family, I realised some great things were happening to them... And by “great”, I mean great for a fan of horror. For them, it probably sucked.
My personal favourite moment of the entire film is when a female cult member skips along without a care in the world and slits someone's throat. It feels incredibly Harley Quinn and reminds me of the politely disturbing group from The Purge, who have a happy-go-lucky vibe even as they slaughter others. There are also some moments that had me sinking back into my seat, like when a character's hands are set on fire, or when a certain brainwashed individual tears a chunk out of his own mother's scalp with this teeth. Say what you like about the Jackals, but they sure know how to brainwash.
A more tender scene also occurs towards the end of the film, which shows a deeper level of emotion than I had seen beforehand. The scene sees Justin – the brainwashee – his girlfriend, and their newborn child. In the moment they share together, he can't be trusted, and he definitely isn't free of the cult's grip on his mind, yet they share a kiss that feels real. This emotion, in turn, raises the stakes briefly and it is a shame that there hadn't been more of this throughout the film.
As you can probably tell, I was expecting more from Jackals. I was hoping for a cult-driven home invasion movie, which this film is not. Perhaps I'm at fault for going in with expectations, though even without these I found myself underwhelmed by the lack of tension throughout and the missing connection I felt to the characters. Having said that, the Jackals' masks are genuinely creepy, as is the lack of dialogue from behind them. I would have liked to know a little more about the cult, but Jackals probably isn't the right film for that. I might have to watch Martha Marcy May Marlene followed by something like The Strangers to really get that fully-rounded cult to home invasion feeling I'm after.