What I'm Watching: Banshee Chapter
What do you get if you mix together the MK Ultra experiments, HP Lovecraft, numbers stations, Hunter S. Thompson with the serial mumbers filed off, Katrina Crane from Sleepy Hollow, and just a hint of found footage?
Well, you get Banshee Chapter!
This movie was surprising to me, in all the right ways. I went in expecting something that was wholly found footage, but oh so fortunately it miraculously wasn't. It's shot handheld, so has that feel to it, and they do splice in quite a bit of footage from cameras people are using in the film, but it's fortunately just part of the storytelling, and not straight up the whole movie.
I needed the break.
The movie is about a journalist, played by Katia Winter, investigating the death of her best friend from college. He's been investigating the MK Ultra experiments, and got his hands on some of the LSD-like drugs they utilised to mess people up, along with some footage.
He soon hears some strange noises eminating from his radio and is eventually attacked in his home, and goes missing.
Katia follows the trail to a counter-culture author, drug advocate, and all-out rebel with too many guns...yep, it's Hunter Thompson, but not. And quite honestly, the movie's version, Thomas Blackburn, is the breakout character of this. As much as I love Katia's performance, Blackburn's snarky attitude and poking fun at the plot were a joy, and easily the best thing to watch.
"Can we go already? It's 2:45am and my eyes're bleeding!"
After a rough start, he eventually gives the journalist the drug, and things get weirder. Creatures begin popping up, strange things happen in the shadows, and the strange noises from the radio continue.
The movie ties the noises and MK Ultra into the phenomenon of numbers stations, and offers their own explanation of what those are, and it's a good little twist that fits this story.
Eventually, the movie tracks down the location of the original experiments, where everything hits the fan, things explode, and Katia barely escapes.
This was SUCH a thrilling movie. The scares are effective, and very creepy, and since they usually come along with the off-putting noises from the numbers station, it adds so much atmosphere.
The biggest problem with the scares is that they are very frequently of the jump scare variety, and over so quickly, you never quite get a good look at just what is tormenting Anne and Blackburn. That has its pros and cons, but with so much of the creatures (The banshees of the title, as the movie hints is what people call these otherworldly visions) kept in the shadows or to brief moments, it feels unfullfilling.
And yet the pro is, every time it happens, you wanna scream, "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!" and the movie earns that response, because you're half looking away and half wanting to see more. It's frustrating and perfect all at once.
The single best scare is from an early point in the movie where Anne is sitting in her car, waiting to find the numbers station, with a camera pointed at her. At one point, the focus slips and she goes all fuzzy, presumably because of something outside her car that drew its attention away. You never see anything, all that happens is the camera going out of focus, AND YET it is so damned off putting.
"You don't scare too easily, do ya, Anne? This shit scares the fuck outta me."
The movie never quite answers its own mysteries, but I think that's for the best. It leads you down certain pathways, and I think I know what the movie WANTS you to think, and I walked away from the movie very satisfied with the story as it was given.
The movie's final few twists and turns are pretty good, and while they point in the directions of "otherworldly beings" trying to possess and ride humans as living skinsuits to further their goals (Whatever THOSE are...), they also leave that question open to interpretation that it's just all crazy mind control LSD people are taking and going nuts.
And of course, the final secret of Chamber 5 is perfect and answers a few questions and asks even more.
I loved this movie for the good scares it gave, the solid lead actors, a pretty good story that keeps you guessing... I only wish it had a bigger budget, because it often felt like it wanted to tell a bigger story that it just couldn't quite reach. A few more answers would've been nice, as well as a clearer overall narrative, and personally I would've preferred to have gone more in the direction of HP Lovecraft, and less in the direction of MK Ultra.
You can keep the latter, but drawing comparrisons to Lovecraft only made me want to expand on those ideas.
It's a solid, low budget, indie flick that maybe reached a little beyond its means, but still managed to be a fun, very creepy ride.
Definitely worth seeing!