There’s nothing like a good scare to get the blood flowing, am I right horror fans? While a film’s story keeps us engaged, its ability to scare us silly is what keeps us on our toes, covered in a blanket, and clinging to the closest arm. Now, there are a few ways to go about spooking viewers – and not all work. Anybody can orchestrate a jump scare, which makes them sometimes more frustrating than enjoyable, but to string together a chain of pure, atmospherically beneficial jump scares, that’s where excitement comes into play. As a horror fan who hates cheap scares and lame tactics that undoubtedly jolt viewers anyway, I’ve got to hand it to first time writer/director Blair Erickson on his first feature The Banshee Chapter, a supernatural thriller that almost gave me a damn heart attack.
After the disappearance of fellow journalist/close friend James (Michael McMillian), Anne Roland (Katia Winter) decides to play detective and investigate what James was working on before he vanished. Obsessed with conspiracies and uncovering the truth, Anne learns that James had gotten his hands on a drug used during human experiments, and after taking the drug for his own test run, James was never heard from again. Luckily for Anne, she’s able to trace the drug back to author Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine), a psychedelics enthusiast of sorts, and starts to do her own research on what exactly the government was testing on living beings. In proper fashion, prying into the unknown only opens Anne up to a world she’s not yet ready to handle, and the search for truth becomes a dangerous, laborious, and absolutely terrifying endeavor.
The Banshee Chapter builds its merits on the backs of governmental conspiracies that some societal groupings still believe to be true, cranking up entertainment levels from “Too ridiculous to believe” to “Oh yeah, this is perfect for a horror movie.” Certain people will forever try to expose Area 51’s little green men, so it’s fun to see Erickson and story creator Daniel J. Healy play off the paranoias of modern-day conspiracy theorists to create their own myth (sort of). We know at some place in time someone undoubtedly tested experimental drugs on real people, and The Banshee Chapter provides a chilling story detailing what would happen if our worst nightmares about such experiments came true.
Now, when I say chilling, I seriously mean The Banshee Chapter had my anxiety level skyrocketing with each and every properly built-up scare. I won’t classify Erickson’s film as strictly “found footage,” but there are large portions where we’re following Anne’s journey by watching her own personal video device that’s chronicling her research. Erickson’s steady focus builds tension and intensity in the air before sending us into a shrieking fit, working through numerous camera angle teases before finally delivering the horror goods. Large amounts of dark, open spaces engulf the screen, but Erickson makes us wait before flashing something ghastly – dragging out the inevitable horror. The scares are never truly where we’d expect, though, which keeps us guessing as well, testing how long we can hold our breath in terror. At the risk of me sounding like some horror rookie, it took a decent amount of energy not to scream like a banshee myself while constantly jumping about.
More importantly, the duo of Ted Levine and Katia Winter makes for an entertaining on screen dynamic, diving into drug subculture from two very different perspectives. Annie (Winter) is nothing but an innocent journalist trying to sniff out her scoop, but gets dragged into her friend James’ story inadvertently in the process. Author Thomas Blackburn (Levine) on the other hand plays a Hunter S. Thompson type of renegade character who accepts being tormented by a magic drug as nothing but a bad trip. Through Annie’s determination and Blackburn’s insane acceptance, our lead characters keep us hooked while exploring the horrors that await in The Banshee Chapter.
Damn the government and their mind altering super chemicals! In sticking with the simplicity of mysteriously hidden monsters, off-camera noises, fixated darkness, and mysterious radio signals, Blair Erickson has created a horrific conspiracy theory that’ll send more than a few shivers up your spine. The Banshee Chapter is a straight-up scarefest that makes quick use of first-person camera angles, but doesn’t drown itself in the overbearing silliness of a women running around with a camera, pointing it at scary things every so often. Nope, Erickson not only makes your heart skip with proper “found footage” screams, but then he pulls the camera back for some traditional fly-on-the-wall filmmaking – with the same unnerving result. Damn you Blair Erickson, you multifaceted maestro of horror!
Blair Erickson's The Banshee Chapter is a relentless bit of horror that mixes governmental conspiracies and psychedelic drugs for one hell of a traumatizing trip.