2013 (1 hr 27 mins)
Part of Scary Night, Banshee Chapter definitely delivers with a creeping sense of mystery and impending doom.
Anna Rowland (Katia Winter), a journalist, searches for her friend, James Hirsch (Michael McMillan), after his mysterious disappearance. He was in the process of writing a book about a secret project called MK Ultra: experiments where the U.S. government administered mind altering drugs on unwilling patients. James takes a mysterious drug that was reportedly used by the C.I.A. on these patients, and very soon after, disappears. Using footage she finds at James’ abandoned house, and vintage video documents of the experiments themselves, Anna’s determination leads her to writer Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine), a famous author known for his radical ideas and experimentation with mind altering substances. Together they travel deeper into this mystery, and reveal scary evidence of unseen, otherworldly dangers.
I found this film genuinely scary. The combination of found footage and real-time film really worked to tell a great story based on actual events. I thought the lighting, or lack there of, was genius to set the eerie mood of the film, and the radio transmissions that lead Anna and Thomas down the rabbit hole were really chilling and foreshadowed some really creepy moments.
The audience was lucky to have the director Blair Erickson and producer Corey Moosa (who runs the production company Before The Door Pictures with the fantastic Zachary Quinto and longtime friend Neal Dodson) do a Q & A after the screening. The feature came from a short film done by Erickson and Moosa which was inspired by the actual drug trials started in the 1950’s by the C.I.A. Erickson was shocked that something “true but fantastical” went on and no one faced any legal prosecution. He wanted to take it further with a direct Lovecraftian reference (From Beyond) and introduce the possibility of another dimension.
The film’s title came from actual DMT drug research patients that reported seeing banshees after taking the hallucinogenic drug. They filmed in New Mexico with crew from Breaking Bad in various locations, including an old missile testing range where they had to get special permission to shoot there. It was also shot with a 3-D camera, and while the audience saw the film during a regular screening, I wondered what, if any, effect it would have on the viewing experience (I am biased. 3-D won’t work on me since my left eye is only there for show). Erickson hinted at a couple of secrets in the plot that I figured out, and loved the elements that they added. I hope you get to see the film and figure them out too!
In terms of casting, Ted Levine was at the top of their list. He really stole the show with his Hunter S. Thompson/Timothy Leary inspired character. He provided moments of comic relief which blended well with the many scares in the film. Winter held her own as the plucky Anna who expressed regret at the lost romantic opportunities with James, and was a great foil to Blackburn’s character.
All in all, this eerie low-budget film will have you wondering where it will take you next as it leads you into creepy, unknown territory.