Best thing you’ll see all week: Banshee Chapter

, | Movie reviews

Banshee Chapter is the reason I watch so many terrible horror movies. Because occasionally something like this bubbles up from the muck and makes it all worthwhile. I don’t mean to overstate how good Banshee Chapter is, because it’s got a lot of the trappings of bad horror. If you were to lift any five or ten minutes out of context, you might guess you’re watching yet more half-assed found footage of people wandering around on the way to another cheap jump scare. You’re partly right. Banshee Chapter can’t quite decide why or whether it’s a found footage movie, and it relies on its share of cheap jump scares.

But writer/director Blair Erickson ultimately pieces together something far more haunting by doing three very specific things. His first trick is his script’s focus on something other than the usual ghosts or demons. Banshee Chapter makes it clear early on that this is a conspiracy yarn about MKUltra, but with a definite in-your-face supernatural bent. For no good reason, it sometimes cuts to extended footage of government experiments. It even sprinkles in a little Lovecraft before it’s all over. It reminds me of a little-seen short film called AM1200 for how it’s about evil tidings carried on electronic signals out of remote desert locations, luring victims to their doom. Take note, bad horror movies! A commitment to an unusual idea goes a long way.

Erikson’s second trick is his cast. A lot of Banshee Chapter is an actress named Katia Winter doing research or just looking around with a flashlight. Miss Winter is lovely enough that you’ll probably assume she’s just another annoying horror movie protagonist. She is not. She’s appealing and likeable, and most importantly, she’s convincing enough to sell the long stretches of research and the bursts of horror. She is also an ideal foil to the movie’s greatest asset, Ted Levine. About half way into Banshee Chapter, he lumbers in clumsily as a thinly veiled nod to Hunter Thompson. He and Winter engage in an appealing push/pull act that keeps the rest of the movie rolling.

Finally, Erickson also knows how to use a handful of unlikely assets sparingly and to creepy effect. A numbers station, an ice cream truck, the hiss of static, a latex mask. You won’t find any of the usual CG here, but you will find some genuinely tense stretches that culminate in awful “oh god, what was that?” scares. And the whole thing closes with “The Girl in the Window”, a lovely song by Mark Lenover that fits the movie like a glove. An absurdly clawed latex glove illuminated by a dim flashlight.

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