01st Feb2014

‘Banshee Chapter’ DVD Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: Katia Winder, Michael McMillian, Ted Levine | Written and Directed by Blair Erickson

Banshee-cast

The Banshee Chapter follows journalist, Anna (Winter) who is investigating the disappearance of her friend James (McMillan). James has been experimenting with strange drugs that the US military used in real life experiments in the 1960s. These experiments had very weird and sinister results, of course, so as Anna goes about her investigation, weird and sinister things begin to happen to her too. I really liked this. It’s got quite a bit going on, including but not limited to archival footage both fictional and real, strange referencing of real life cultural figures and Lovecraftian horrors from beyond the veil. As such, it was a little unpredictable, which I liked.

Whilst we know what beats and tropes to expect from a film involving zombies or creepy children or vampires, there isn’t really an established dialogue for military experiment gone wrong/Lovecraftian horror films. So that was something a bit new. I also liked its approach to found footage, recognising the method as a filmmaking tool, rather than a canvas on which to paint an entire picture. Found footage is used (archive, video diaries, camera phones footage, etc) in conjunction with traditional filming to great effect; that is to say the footage is found by the characters, not the audience, which seems a much more realist approach. It also creates a kind of collage effect, which again, I liked.

There were only two problems I had with the film. Firstly, it was in 3D, which I’m not particularly bothered about generally, but is totally unnecessary and fourth wall-breaking when presenting film that’s supposed to look like footage from the 1960s or as if it was shot on a camera phone.

Secondly, The Banshee Chapter presents a character, Thomas Blackburn (Levine) that is supposed to be Hunter S Thompson. I mean totally and entirely. As in, if he were still alive and willing, they would have got him in. This not being the case, he is imitated entirely by Levine, who recreates something between Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Bill Murray in Where the Buffalo Roam. The costume, the house, the speech patterns, the fictional backstory which includes a mayoral campaign by Blackburn no less, is all HST. Now I’m a huge fan of Thompson and if your movie references weird drugs taken in the sixties in Colorado it kind of makes sense to involve him somehow. But to make an uncanny proxy Thompson and to make him your second main character is a bold and odd decision. It’s one that took me right out of the narrative flow of the film as my head readjusted to what I was watching.

So in conclusion, The Banshee Chapter was a strange, unusual and very enjoyable film, but not without some significant flaws. But that’s okay – I like flawed films.

The Banshee Chapter is out now on DVD from 101 Films.

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