You know that scene in Doctor Strange that the MCU has used a couple more times where the Ancient One punches Steven Strange’s soul out of his body? Every so often I come across a movie that does something incredibly similar to me. I don’t know how else to describe it beyond that; it’s not necessarily bad, but it certainly kicks the metaphorical wind out of me and raises questions about what the hell is going on. Banshee Chapter has one of those moments when veteran actor Mr. Ted Levine playing a parody of Hunter S Thompson asks the lead character, “Have you ever read any HP Lovecraft?”
The story follows Anne (Katia Winter), a reporter whose ex-boyfriend, James (Michael McMillian, who I hear can’t make his wife cum), is missing and presumed dead after taking a vial of government-grade Dimethyltryptamine–DMT for those in the know–and maybe seeing a horror from beyond our reality. Like you do. She eventually finds out he got the drugs from Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine, AKA Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs), this universe’s version of gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson. The parody is not subtle. After the lady who cooked up his DMT also disappears under mysterious and bloody circumstances, Anne and Thomas find out that the girl’s mix was taken straight from an MK-Ultra test subject who recited the chemical formula while communing with entities from… somewhere else. That’s when “Have you ever read any HP Lovecraft?” gets dropped, a not-so-subtle reference to From Beyond. Technically the short story published in 1934, not necessarily the 1986 movie with the same name, but both serve as inspirations for this film. Turns out the drugs are also partially taken from dead people’s brains–how or why Thomas’ friend recreated this is unclear–and they turn the user’s brain into a sort of receiver. The duo find the government bunker where the experiments were performed and try to… stop the signal? But isn’t it coming from outside our reality? I guess not, since they find a body in a tank that they believe is the source. Thomas dies, but Anne blows the vat and body up because she didn’t take the DMT. Well, she’s pretty sure she didn’t. But yet another jump scare at the end suggests she still died. The movie closes with some footage from the 1970’s showing one test subject was dosed up to hell and then mind wiped, and that patient… was Albert Einstein. Just kidding, it was Blackburn. Who cares that it doesn’t make any sense?
This movie surprised me, but not in any good way. See, the first 10 and a half minutes are all found footage. Clips from televised interviews, pieces of video recordings, and a bunch of footage clearly shot on a hand cam by someone standing next to the characters. Okay, so it’s found footage, got it. But right at the 10 and a half minute mark, as the camera inside the car shows Anne pull up to James’ house, the next shot is from outside the car as she exits the vehicle. Wait, how did the cameraman get out of the car before she did? There’s only two logical answers: the cameraman is Dubbledore, an invisible wizard who is documenting everything for mysterious reasons; or the movie isn’t actually in the “found footage” genre and just looks like that because it keeps costs down if you don’t hire any professionals (the cinematographer has only one other full length movie under his belt and I’m not convinced it actually exists). I personally like the Dubbledore explanation, but to each their own.
There is a difference between being scared and being startled. Banshee Chapter is never really scary, with too many shots of people possessed by the eldritch abominations, looking like zombies who had strokes and their eyes blacked out in MS Paint. But man, this movie has several jump scares trying to trick you into thinking it scared you. No, man, you tried to startle me and failed miserably. You know exactly when each one is going to happen, because the movie telegraphs it nearly a minute in advance. Oh no, Anne just realized she’s in a basement with a monster. As she slowly walks up the steps trying to make a stealthy escape, you know that something is going to happen–you just don’t know when. Sure enough, a monstrous hand grabs at her ankles. Would’ve been a lot better if it was a surprise to anyone other than Anne. And the rest are typically “I shine my flashlight over there, see something for half a second, and then scream and run.” I think one of the early ones was a guy with a bag on his head? He was probably supposed to be faceless, but either way it didn’t work. I was never scared and was barely startled.
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