Found footage. Two words that seem to instinctively lead every discerning horror fan to roll their eyes and offer a deep sigh. That’s unfair though as this reaction only stems from the marketplace being swamped in the last few years by inferior movies made solely to ride the coattails of the successful ones. Remember, for every Apollo 18 there’s a Troll Hunter and for every Paranormal Entity there’s a Paranormal Activity.
Banshee Chapter arrives on our shores with a wave of excitement, and deservedly so. At the beginning we’re informed that in 1963 the U.S government began experimenting on unsuspecting Americans with chemical agents intended to induce mind control, and the program was named MK-Ultra. There then follows some genuine archive footage from some talking heads including Bill Clinton discussing the effects of such testing. All this pre-amble certainly puts you in the frame of mind to not necessarily accept the authenticity of the film, but to certainly respect the plausibility of the storyline.
We’re introduced to Anne Roland (Katia Winter) who is telling of the disappearance of a friend of hers, James Hirsch (Michael McMillan). In previously recorded footage we see James ingesting DMT-19 as part of an experiment on himself to uncover the effects of such a substance that was used in the aforementioned government experimentation. Initially there seems to be no reaction, but as the camera stays rolling we witness a staggering fallout
It is after this experiment gone wrong that James disappears, and although Anne has not worked with James since their college days she feels compelled to dig into what he was working on and somehow figure out just what happened to him. Her first step is to visit his house and attempt to sift through his paperwork and notes, before then befriending a drug addles 70s novelist (Ted Levine) who may have supplied James with the substance. All of which forms the basis to take her on a quite terrifying journey.
Banshee Chapter succeeds in a number of ways, first and foremost is its premise which manages to grip you from the first minute. In a similar way to last years The Conspiracy, by rooting itself with historically accurate background, that gives it a certain level of credibility that is so rare to find in a horror movie. Coupled with this are the two primary characters who are written as believable people as opposed to the generic caricature we usually find in films of this ilk. Katia Winter whilst being an attractive lead offers a level of grounded intelligence instead of air-headed ignorance, while Ted Levine is a perfect foil as the reluctant author dragged along on this quest.
Some of the tension in the film is palpable and director Blair Ericksen manages to refrain from delivering shocks-by-numbers which brings a level of satisfying unpredictability to the movie. The film is really well lit which enhances the shocks when they come, and credit to the make-up / FX department for delivering some ghastly creations. Overall, Banshee Chapter manages to be the first seriously scary film of 2014, and one that no doubt will feature again in December as being one of the best horror films of the year.