The Banshee Chapter Movie Review
More unsettling than actually scary, this slow-burning horror movie is directed and acted with style even though the script feels rather under-developed. There's enough intrigue to hold our interest, even though the plot is laced with lapses of logic and ill-defined situations. So what keeps us watching is the hope that something might eventually make sense. And along the way the gimmicky filmmaking finds ways to send chills down our spine.
The title is never quite defined; it has something to do with Native Americans and an illicit government drug-testing programme in the 1960s. And things kick off in the present day when James (McMillian) tries one of these experimental mind-altering drugs and then promptly disappears. So his British journalist friend Anne (Winter) starts looking for him, learning that the drug is an extract from dead bodies. While monitoring suspicious radio signals in the desert, she tracks down counterculture novelist Blackburn (Levine), who has been experimenting with the same drug with his girlfriend Callie (Gabrielle). And the deeper they look the stranger things get.
Most of the film is set up as a fake investigative documentary, as Anne follows the story down into a surreal rabbit hole. Mixed in with this are real archive TV clips and old footage about US government experiments on unwitting subjects, plus videotapes that seem to show the hallucinations the patients are having, which makes us wonder if something supernatural and freaky might be going on here.
All of this is assembled in a slick, pacey style that makes the most of the New Mexico locations and a cast that dives in fully to the increasingly insane series of events. It helps that the performances are naturalistic, because this grounds even the most ridiculous twists and turns of the plot, although the script's gaping holes and inconsistent characterisations continually throw us out of the story. And if we're watching closely enough, we realise that every frightening moment is the result of a cheap sound effect or editing jolt rather than the build-up of any actual suspense.