DIRECTOR Blair Erickson WRITER Blair Erickson; Daniel J. Healy (story) STARS Katia Winter; Ted Levine; Michael McMillian SCREENING Today at 13.30
That first-time writer-director Blair Erickson’s film is pure fiction but has a documentary feel is apt, being a well-realised take on a genuine and shadowy subject: in the 60s and 70s the US government conducted covert operations and drug tests on humans to create super soldiers. Erickson takes that idea and runs with the story of a journalist (Dexter’s Katia Winter) investigating the disappearance of a friend who has been experimenting with mind-altering chemicals originally developed by the CIA. So far, so very X-Files, and the first half of The Banshee Chapter is reminiscent of the best that show had to offer — secret labs, conspiracy theories and occasional flashes of something nasty. It’s a good set-up and done well, particularly with genuine news footage interspersed among the narrative.
The film is produced by Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto, and aside from Winter you’ll also recognise Ted Levine and True Blood’s Michael McMillian. Some good pedigree and production values then, but what is most surprising for a low-budget feature is that it’s shot in 3D. The review copy provided to Exquisite Terror was 2D only, but with the strong, psychedelic visuals during the drug trips, it’s easy to imagine the effect. Sadly, it’s as The Banshee Chapter gets wilder during the second act it also starts to lose its power, descending into a series of set-ups designed for clichéd jump-scares, and the revealing of drugged mutations that aren’t as horrifying as the premise predicts. It’s still effective, and the dimly-lit corridors of the research facility are creepy, but really this falls into the seen-it-all-before category. However, good photography, sound design and a fine performance from Winter rescue proceedings. It’s a film that will certainly fill the void until Mulder and Scully dust off their trench coats once more.