Directed by Blair Erickson. Starring Katia Winter ("Anne Roland"), Ted Levine ("Thomas Blackburn"), and Michael McMillian ("James Hirsch"). Rated R.
Source: Region 1 DVD (Xlrator)
Running time: 01:27:03
Country: Germany, USA
There's a lot of backstory thrown at you throughout BANSHEE CHAPTER, but the main narrative follows Katia Winter's character - an investigative journalist named Anne - as she attempts to track down her friend James, who suddenly vanished after subjecting himself to a strange experiment. Years earlier as a college student, James developed an interest in the mind-control experiments that that CIA conducted back in the 1970s, which involved taking unsuspecting citizens and injecting them with a highly-hallucinatory agent called DMT (Dimethyltryptamine). The experiment conducted by the CIA is actually rooted in fact, but DMT was simply one of the many agents they used. Basically, James wanted to experience what the test subjects in the 70s experienced, so he got ahold of some DMT and the only thing left to show for it once his experiment was all said and done was some bizarre video footage that ultimately took a shocking an unexplained turn.
I honestly don't know much about DMT or hallucinogens, but I'm aware of the fact (based on testimonials by the people who've used them) that intense hallucinations have resulted in people being able to tap into what they describe as an alternate world that defies explanation. And of course there are certain cultures who dabble in hallucinogens for spiritual purposes and feel that these experiences bring them closer to whatever "higher power" they believe in. BANSHEE CHAPTER plays with the idea that DMT exposes people to paranormal beings who can cause serious harm. Again, a very unique premise that ultimately pays off on a consistent basis throughout the film.
BANSHEE CHAPTER essentially plays out like a found-footage horror movie with Katia Winter's character going around, doing some investigating, and creeping through places she probably doesn't belong in. She teams up with another character at one point, but she's the star of the show. It should be said that this is not a found-footage movie, but it very well could've been shot as one and the only thing that would've changed is that there would have been another character (a camera person) following Katia around. The thing is, BANSHEE CHAPTER is filmed in a documentary/veritee manner, as if there were an unnamed character following Katia around with a camera who's never once acknowledged in the film. I found this technique to be really interesting; it has the same effect as a found-footage movie but doesn't have to abide by the same "rules" as one. And one thing that BANSHEE CHAPTER does well is exploit the veritee style in terms of presenting a lot of the film's scarier moments. And trust me, there are plenty of them.
This movie could've ended up being a huge pile of dog shit and I still would have been impressed had the strong opening remained intact. It's not often that I get freaked out by a horror movie to the point where it fucks with my head, but BANSHEE CHAPTER succeeded in that respect. The opening of this movie is fucking Creepy (note the capital "C"). In the first 15 minutes, there were three moments that made me jump like I was the third member of Kris Kross. And the jump scares kept coming. Sometimes the film goes a little too far with the amount of jump scares, but for the most part it's very effective when it comes to creating tension and dread and just plain' ol scaring the ever-loving shit out of you.
It's not that far into the film when we're introduced to a character who eventually acts as a consultant to Anne. I recall a buddy of mine on Facebook saying that this movie lost him once a "certain character was introduced", and I kept that in the back of my head when watching this. Well, I think it's safe to assume that he was referring to Thomas Blackburn, played by Ted Levine (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). This character is basically a blatant rip-off of Hunter S. Thompson with a little bit of Timothy Leary and The Dude thrown in. I personally didn't have too much of a problem with this character, but he was indeed a little too goofy on occasion.
I don't have a ton to say about this movie. Once Anne meets up with the Hunter S. Thompson clone, there's a little bit of a pissing contest betwee the two of them that I found to be mildly amusing. And of course they team up to do some investigating, but for the most part it's just Anne creeping around dark rooms with a flashlight. The main narrative is often interrupted by footage of the experiments that went down in the 70s along with staged interview footage and stock footage of real people (namely Bill Clinton) legitimately addressing the CIA's experiments, presumably to both give us some background information and break up the monotony of Anne's investigation. For the most part it works despite the experiment footage not looking the least bit authentic.
BANSHEE CHAPTER isn't perfect by any stretch, but it's very refreshing because of its subject matter and its very well-made to boot. Aside from Katia Winter, the cinematography and lighting really stood out as a highlight of the film. Towards the end, it reminded me of films like BURIED and THE DESCENT in terms of how practical light sources (flashlights, etc.) shape the appearance of the film while adding a stylized element at the same time. One thing I also found noteworthy about BANSHEE CHAPTER is that it follows a woman who's going out and essentially trying to rescue a man and not vice versa. You go girl!