The Banshee Chapter 3D (2013)
(TBC) Running time: 87 minutes
Director: Blair Erickson
Writers: Blair Erickson, Daniel J. Healy
Cast: Ted Levine, Katia Winter, Michael McMillian, Jenny Gabrielle, Chad Brumnet
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
The Banshee Chapter came with Kim Newman’s blessing at FrightFest, and that alone is enough to confirm a film will be good. Being the world premiere too, this was the first time anyone had seen it, and like with most films at the festival, expectations were high. Granted this was the directorial debut of Blair Erickson, but there was plenty of talent involved in the film. American Horror Story and Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto had produced, and the sci-fi horror boasted a strong lead cast of Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs, Shutter Island, The Hills Have Eyes) and the gorgeous Katia Winter (Dexter). The recently released trailer looked amazing, and from the get go The Banshee Chapter had a real buzz about it.
Then the film began, and a slow but intriguing opening sees James (McMillian) experimenting with a government drug known as MK-ULTRA. The chemical agent was used in 1963 and was intended to induce mind control, but as we quickly find out, it brings some terrible and frightening things with it. James goes missing, and his best friend Anna (Winter) sets about finding out exactly what happened to him as she retraces his steps, and investigates further into the origins of the drug and the experiments. She brings her own camera and films the events, and while the film begins as found footage, it is quickly forgotten as Erickson switches to the more traditional filming approach, and uses found footage as and when he feels like it. Anna’s investigations bring her to the Black Rock desert where she picks up strange frequencies and possible messages, messages she later has translated, and later still she decides to hunt down the controversial Hunter S. Thompson like writer Thomas Blackburn (a brilliant Ted Levine).
Blackburn is hard to find, and a danger to both himself and those around him, but his character gives the film a much needed boost of quality and fun. Levine shines while doing his best Hunter S. Thompson impression, and The Banshee Chapter becomes exciting and intriguing again. Talk of Numbers stations, brain receivers and using drugs to open their minds lend the film a cool, almost anarchic feel, and the story draws you in with its ideas and theories. The two main characters drive the film well, and deliver really strong performances, and with the added bonus of a genuinely intriguing plot, The Banshee Chapter should have delivered, but it fails.
The decision to shoot the film in 3D may have seemed good at the time, but it seriously doesn’t work. The found footage aspect is seriously nauseating, and when we look back at the government experiment videos, the title cards for the video are all blurry and distract from the main picture. I am less and less a fan of 3D, and films like this prove why: the gimmick adds nothing at all, and if anything, spoils the enjoyment. The scares are way too obvious here too, with jump moments coming with an instruction manual with them. The scares are built up so blatantly, they never actually work, which is a shame because there are plenty of them. Far too often monsters or bad people are hiding in the shadows, and only come out when you are stood right next to them, or a scene where Anna is in a basement and she spots someone else entering the room on CCTV. She holds her torch at the staircase in front, looks up and down, left and right and anyone one of the glances could have delivered that much warranted shock. Instead she runs up the stairs, only to be grabbed by something hiding under the stairs. It is a lazy attempt at scaring the audience, and while I did hear plenty of screams in the cinema, they didn’t work on me. The scares felt too staged, and too dry, void of any creativity or flare. Simply put, the film did not scare me at all.
Sadly the lack of any real tension and the annoying 3D makes The Banshee Chapter one of those poorly missed opportunities. The actual ideas and story are terrific, and yes you will find yourself being drawn in and excited by what is happening, but unfortunately this is a film with superb ideas delivered painfully average, and the majority of horror fans will have seen all these scares before. I will give this another go in 2D when it eventually gets released, but for now The Banshee Chapter was a huge letdown.