“In 1963 the U.S. government began experimenting on unsuspecting Americans with chemical agents intended to induce mind control.
The program was named MK-ULTRA.
The results were horrifying.”
The results were horrifying were they? That’s a big statement. The movie kicks off with archive footage, including President Clinton, seguing into found footage, and then abandoning that for handheld camerawork. The mixing it up at first feels uneven, then one is glad formalism is not adhered to. BANSHEE CHAPTER is badly written and acted, and doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but what saves it: Effective tension and scares. Executive produced by actor Zachary Quinto, who oversaw the excellent financial crisis drama MARGIN CALL, and starring THE SILENCE OF THE LAMB’s Ted Levine, there is some pedigree.
James Hirsch (TRUE BLOOD’s Michael McMillian), a novelist, has got hold of an unofficial government psychotropic drug, “DMT 19”. James wants to recreate the experiments that the opening archive footage hinted at. So, like you of course do, he tests it on himself. So much of BANSHEE CHAPTER has one nearly screaming at the screen, why are you doing that? Taking a leaf from THE RING and THE X-FILES, where you are willing the protagonists to investigate during the daytime, we have to follow the leads into unsettling buildings at night.
James hears unusual broadcasts from his radio, starts bleeding from his face and then disappears. His cameraman and friend Renny Seegan (Alex Gianopoulos) relays the bizarre events to the local cops, who don’t believe him. Renny then disappears. In steps intrepid reporter Anna Roland (Katia Winter). Through flashbacks we get glimpses of an unconsummated university mutual love with James; it’s an efficient device for us buying into why she enters places like a disused bunker or a basement with a metal door that locks from the outside.
Anna tracks down the source of James’s DMT 19 to a Hunter S. Thompson-esque author, Thomas Blackburn (Levine). (Levine is not in the same league as Johnny Depp in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS.) Ending up back at his place, where drug taking leads to a sort of humanoid assailant knocking at the door. It emits electro-magnetic pulses, or something, knocking out lights. The audience is not given clear visuals, wisely, because the brief glimpse suggests a guy in a suit. Anna’s journey is intercut with old government footage, showing the results of the injections, her colleague is looking into.
Conversations are not about characterisation, just perfunctorily pushing the narrative along. Eventually it just sounds like Anna asking why, why, why. The intimidation is of the jump variety, and are enough to keep entertainment to a decent level. The plot mechanics are computer game rote – scare, solve a clue, scare, solve a clue. Anna wanders around in a no-nonsense DIE HARD vest, and continually sticks her face very close to windows. You know the shock is coming, and maybe that is part of the pleasure/discomfort.