Banshee Chapter is a Conspiracy-Riddled Scare Fest From Start to Finish

This is the second article in a series called ‘In Case You Missed It’ where I look at the hidden gems of the horror genre. Last week I reviewed the Shudder original Caveat, so go take a look at that if you missed it, but this week is all about the terrifically terrifying Banshee Chapter. It’s a film so scary that I’ve waited over three years to finally rewatch it.

Banshee Chapter is a film based around the MK-Ultra experiments that began in the USA in 1953 in which the CIA attempted to brainwash and psychologically torture its own citizens with the use of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD alongside electroshock therapy, sensory deprivation, and many more torture methods. Heavily influenced by H.P Lovecraft’s From Beyond, Banshee Chapter is about a journalist named Anne Roland (Katia Winter) who goes searching for her best friend James Hirsch (Michael McMillian) who goes missing after ingesting a chemical called DMT-19 that was used in the MK-Ultra experiments as research for a book that he is writing. Unbeknownst to James, the chemical opens a doorway to another side that calls out to malevolent entities and invites them through the void.

Banshee Chapter is an amalgamation of numerous different influences. From the already discussed From Beyond and MK-Ultra experiments to the creepy numbers stations and a character clearly based on the legendary writer Hunter S. Thompson. It may seem like a case of throwing things at the wall until it sticks but every single influence and reference works in a fantastic symbiotic nature that produces a coherent and truly creepy plot that feels almost (but not quite) believable. Lending its hand to Banshee Chapter’s semi-realism is the half mockumentary half traditional filmmaking framing device. It’s a framing device that can seem a bit all over the place, especially as even the more traditional parts are filmed with a shaky camera that feels reminiscent of a documentary, but I actually think that works in its favor. It provides the film with a chaotic, almost found-footage, style that only enhances the more terrifying parts of this film which there are plenty of. 

James Hirsch, Michael McMillian stares at the camera with a distorted face.

I stated in the introduction that this is the first time I’ve watched this film since the first over three years ago. That wasn’t an over-exaggeration. The opening sequence takes no prisoners fantastically utilizing a numbers station and superb makeup work to deliver one of my all-time favorite scares, and from that point onwards, it only gets more terrifying. Writer/director Blair Erickson uses the idea that what you can’t see is scarier than what you can and it works brilliantly. Most of the scarier scenes are shot in darkness with flashlights being the only source of light and that childhood fear of what lurks in the shadows comes creeping back into your brain. Everyone used to be scared of the monster under the bed and part of that is the fact that we had no idea what they looked like or what they wanted and Banshee Chapter plays on that fear. There are several occasions where you get glimpses of the ‘banshees,’ and when you do it sends that familiar ice through your veins, but you never really get a full view of one and I personally think that’s a positive. What little you do see of the creature design is enough to make the most seasoned horror obsessive scared but having your mind fill in the blanks adds to that terror tenfold. 

I’ve always been a pretty vocal critic of jump scares. I find the majority to be cheap and lazy ways to scare the audience but on occasion, there are some movies that utilize them spectacularly, and Banshee Chapter is definitely one of them. Most of them come out of the blue with no sound clues or long shots of a door that you know is about to burst open which added to the overall terror of the film. They feel reminiscent of the birthday party scene in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, one of the scariest scenes ever, where you have an inkling that something is about to happen but you just aren’t sure what. It makes you uneasy. Restless. And when you’re sat at home in the dark, it makes you wonder if your own living room door is about to explode off the hinges and some unknown terror is going to be standing there watching you. I seriously cannot express enough how much Banshee Chapter scares me and to do it on a budget of less than a million dollars with less than a month to shoot it all makes it all the more impressive. 

Thomas Blackburn, Ted Levine, sits in the back of a car smoking a cigarette

It’s not just the scares that make this film so good. Ted Levine delivers an often hilarious performance as the Hunter S. Thompson-inspired Thomas Blackburn. It’s the sort of performance where you can really tell just how much fun is he having with the character and it provides some much-needed fun to the otherwise dark movie. Katia Winter also delivers a more than capable performance that doesn’t quite reach the levels of Levine but is still incredibly solid. Alongside the performances are some great practical and other visual effects that, considering the budget, really impressed me.

If there’s one thing horror films should be, it’s scary, and Banshee Chapter definitely is. So if you’re looking for a film that might give you some nightmares or that will reinvoke your fear of the dark, then look no further. With a runtime of just under an hour and a half, it’s the perfect horror film for a late-night viewing just before you crawl into bed and sleep with the lights on.

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Written by Tom Bailey

Tom is a film reviewer that absolutely loves finding diamonds in the rough and shining a light on them in the hopes they get the recognition they deserve! Other than a massive horror junkie, he also love football (soccer) and is massively devoted to Arsenal FC. He also writes for his own blog

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