27th Aug2017

Frightfest 2017: ‘Jackals’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Stephen Dorff, Deborah Kara Unger, Jonathon Schaech, Nick Roux, Chelsea Ricketts | Written by Jared Rivet | Directed by Kevin Greutert

Jackals-poster

They knew it would take steely resolve and iron daring to go up against the violent sect who have brainwashed their teenage son, Justin. But the estranged Powell family and the cult deprogrammer they’ve hired in desperation had no idea how soon they would become the bloody prey in this suspense shocker, which is apparently based on a true 1980s story…

A riff on the Assault on Precinct 13 template of a building under siege, Kevin Greutert and co. try to bring something new to the all-too-familiar story, giving Jackals an extra depth with the cult deprogrammer angle. However the idea of a cult going to such lengths to retrieve a lost member basically seems like a throwaway storyline: an excuse for the “bad men” to attack our protagonists, NOT a much-needed motivation. In that sense, Jackals shares a lot in common with another “cult killers” movie: Race With the Devil – in both films it is only by chance that our cast cross paths with the creepy cult and eventually pay heavily.

Of course the “chance” here is that the family at the centre of this story is a fractured, broken one. One whose collapse has led to a father leaving, a mother becoming an alcoholic and a son who, after knocking up his girlfriend to the disdain of this family, ups and leaves to join a cult… Yes, Jackals has a LOT to say about the state of the all-American family today. Gone is the white picket fence, 2.4 children, squeaky-clean life, and in comes a family that is as troubled as the villains that pursue them – the lines between hero and villain are in a perpetual state of grey here!

Whilst the story may be slight and the motivation and characterisation light, Jackals at least provides audiences with a distinct visual flair – the mask-wearing villains stood eerily on the lawn of their victims is as distinctive and iconic as the killers in The Strangers (on which Jackals director Grueter served as editor), and any of the masked villains from a myriad of slasher movies. Sadly cool visuals and impactful deaths – of which their are many – do not a film make and Jackals pays the price: beyond the sheer hatred I had for Deborah Kara Unger’s alcoholic mother I did not truly care for any of the characters here. Maybe audiences will feel for Jonathon Schaech’s Papa Powell, if only because he ultimately redeems himself for his transgressions; but other than that, Jackals develops no empathy for any of the protagonists, not even Justin’s former girlfriend and mother of his child, so there’s no reason to care about what happens to them in the end.

With little point to proceedings beyond the violence and hysteria wrought large on the screen, Jackals at least doesn’t give us the expected happy ending…

** 2/5

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