I've had the intention to watch Banshee Chapter for a while now, discovering its existence while reading a list of the scariest horror film to be inspired by the works of H.P Lovecraft. With zero screeners currently waiting to be watched for reviewed I decide to finally check it out. This was the directorial debut of Blair Erickson who also wrote this, based off a story created by Daniel J. Healy. Despite a reliance on jump scares this was a pretty decent horror.
Anne (Katia Winter - Sleepy Hollow TV series, Dexter) is an investigative journalist who discovers an old university friend has vanished in mysterious circumstances, and so she decides to try and find out what happened. Her friend had managed to get hold of a top secret government created drug that been used in their illegal MK Ultra experiments in the 1970s. He had decided to film himself while on it as part of the research he was carrying out. The recorded footage showed him increasingly paranoid that someone was trying to get into his house, and then alarmed when a strange broadcast started playing on his radio. He vanished after this, and his friend who had been filming him and who had been suspected of murdering the man disappeared a few days later himself. Anne's investigation leads her to a counter-culture author, Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine - Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Shutter Island) and after they both take the drug (her being tricked into doing so) they begin to experience the same nightmare visions that her friend seemed to have had right before he vanished.
To begin with it felt like Banshee Chapter might be a found footage, instead it is more traditionally shot for the most part but does feature elements from that genre. Early on in the movie Anne discovers an old beta-max cassette tape that had recordings of the governments experiments. This grainy black and white footage is interspersed throughout the movie, even popping up directly after the film's ending. This had some of the more freaky moments. As for Anne and Thomas the horror there is more often than not jump scares. Usually Anne will be at a freaky location (abandoned house, underground bunker etc) and will suddenly see a grotesque figure looming out the darkness, accompanied by a loud screech. It was effective but was a bit one note as this seemed to be the exclamation point that always preceded the characters moving on to a new location.
The camera work was a bit strange, while this settle down into a more traditionally shot movie the camera is still constantly swaying around as if it is being held by someone. This gave a voyeuristic feel at times which worked quite well in the context of the protagonists convinced they are being followed by something unseen.
The story here is specifically based on H.P Lovecraft's short story From Beyond, the inspiration isn't kept a secret as at one point a character even sums up that story. In that, a man created a special tuning fork that allowed people to glimpse a different reality, but also let the beings from another reality look back. The story of Banshee Chapter is similar, but tied up in the real world MK Ultra experiments (that were designed to try and create mind control of the subjects). This is presented in the film by the two primary protagonists heading from one scary location to another, seemingly over the course of one night as there was barely any of this shot in daylight. Before I was really aware of it happening the film was nearing its end. Matching the drug ride characters went on, this movie flowed along like a bad trip, going from one nightmare to another while questioning at times if what they were seeing was real or not. Anne was a decent lead, you never got access to much of her personality as her hero's journey begins right away. The character of Thomas was obviously inspired by Hunter S. Thompson, his was a fun role and managed to not seem out of place despite being partly a comedy character.
Banshee Chapter was an atmospheric horror film that was almost fantastic. There was a bit too much reliance on jump scares as a way to finish each scene. I appreciated the wild ride this went on but the story was at times a little too obtuse for my liking. Banshee Chapter is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.