Banshee Chapter: Film Review

Ted Levine's entertaining turn as a Hunter S. Thompson-style counterculture writer enlivens this inventive low-budget horror film.

Actor Zachary Quinto is among the executive producers of this horror film inspired by a secret government experiment.

Imagine an episode of The X-Files if the Fox Mulder character was a counterculture writer a la Hunter S. Thompson and you'll get the flavor of Banshee Chapter. Blair Erickson's inventive low-budget horror film doesn't fully live up to its provocative premise, and its extensive use of the found-footage style gives it an all too familiar feel. But it offers some genuine scares along the way, as well as a terrific performance by the ever reliable Ted Levine. The film, now getting a theatrical release after being available on VOD, should garner some additional attention since actor Zachary Quinto is among its executive producers.

The film loosely inspired by the H.P. Lovecraft story From Beyond cannily exploits the real-life episode of a decades-old secret CIA research project involving a mind-altering substance known as MK-Ultra, for which President Bill Clinton, seen here in stock footage, notably apologized. The plot revolves around the efforts of young journalist Anne (Katia Winter, delivering a solidly intense turn) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of her friend James (Michael McMillian) after he makes the mistake of experimenting with the drug.

Her research leads her to novelist Thomas Blackburn (Levine), a conspiracy theorist who's had no small amount of experience with MK-Ultra himself. They form an uneasy alliance, which eventually leads them to, among other things, a secret government laboratory -- shades of Area 51 -- located deep in the desert. Needless to say, things soon begin to go bump in the night.

Mixing faux found-footage with a more conventional approach, writer-director Erickson generates some genuinely spooky moments, even if he relies a little too heavily on suddenly cranking up the sound to induce shocks. But he leavens the proceedings with enough off-kilter humorous touches to compensate for its more rote elements, many of them generated by Levine's highly entertaining turn as the roguish writer.

Opens Jan. 10 (XLrator Media)

Production: Sunchaser Entertainment, Before the Door Pictures, Favorit Film

Cast: Katia Winter, Ted Levine, Michael McMillian, Monique Candelaria, Jennie Gabrielle

Director-screenwriter: Blair Erickson

Producers: Sean Akers, Christian Arnold-Beutel, Corey Moosa, Stephanie Riggs

Executive producers: Zachary Quinto, Neal Dodson, Gudrun Giddings, Marcus Schofer, Reinhard Schurk, Ben Samuels, John A. Pinckard

Director of photography: Jeremy Obertone

Editor: Jacques Gravett

Production designer: Kristen Adams

Costume designer: Liz Marshall

Composer: Andreas Weidinger

Rated R, 87 min.

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