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March 19, 2014

The Banshee Chapter

by Franz Patrick


Banshee Chapter, The (2013)
★ / ★★★★

When her friend (Michael McMillian) from college goes missing after experimenting with DMT, dimethyltryptamine, a drug that is believed to have been used by scientists in the ‘60s and ‘70s in inhumane human experiments called “Project MKUltra”, Anne (Katia Winter), a journalist, goes on a mission to find out what happened to him, where he is, and what the chemical really does to people. Eventually, she meets an author (Ted Levine) and he admits to her that he has spiked her drink with DMT. Soon, she starts to experience bizarre hallucinations in the form of strange sounds and monstrous figures.

“The Banshee Chapter” is all sorts of foolishness. Many criticize it for lacking an identity: it appears to be in the skin of a found footage film one minute and then it is shed whenever convenient. Though I cannot disagree, I think the picture has a bigger problem: for a horror movie, it simply is not scary. The characters appear scared of the strange encounters but I found myself incredibly bored. Just about everything is a reaction shot.

When it does show the figures which are supposedly scary, it cuts so quickly that we never get a chance to appreciate what makes it so horrifying. One of two routes is taken: the scene fades to black which leaves us confused and frustrated or the camera fixes on how the character responds to the situation. There is nothing special about screaming if we have no idea what she is so scared of.

The so-called partnership between the journalist and the writer is devoid of intrigue, chemistry, and synergy. The scenes that work most involve Anne investigating on her own, whether it be watching a videotape sent to her by a stranger or walking through an apartment in search of evidence. Winter plays her character strong and so I did not understand why she must have a man to guide or help her. He offers nothing special.

Footages of the human experiments are very repetitive. We get it: the scientists lack a moral compass since they subject their patients to all sorts of drugs and electric shocks. Other than the fact that the images denote cruelty, why are they worth seeing time and time again? I’ll tell you why—to buy off some time just so the film can get really close to the magical ninety-minute mark.

I dislike movies like this. Stretching a material with only thirty minutes of anything worthy of seeing—and I’m being generous—is both cynical and lazy. Writer-director Blair Erickson should have strived to put more into it and ironing out the details that matter. The mystery leaves us hanging and by then it has wasted everybody’s time.

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