The opening sequence of “The Banshee Chapter,” which releases to limited theaters on Jan. 10, plays an obnoxious trick on the viewer. We’re expecting to watch a movie, and we get what looks like a documentary. Then it turns into a standard narrative. Then the film jumps between standard filmmaking and found footage during the rest of its 90-minute runtime.
We’re introduced to an experiment known as MK-Ultra via documentary footage. The narrator, Anne Roland (Katia Winter), then talks about how her friend from college, James (Michael McMillian), went missing and the film switches to found footage. We see James take a drug that is considered illegal. Crazy stuff happens, and the picture jumps between technical glitches with the camera and the scene. It plays like an uninteresting trailer for the latest found footage horror film. Heck, the viewer doesn’t even know if it is a trailer or the actual film until after the title card fades away.
When Anne, who is now an investigative journalist for an online publication, tries to figure out the disappearance of James (Michael McMillian), she finds out about these secret government cover-ups. She then teams up with wacko novelist Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine) to uncover the truth of the MK-Ultra experiment and what happened to James.
Much like 2013’s extremely overrated “The Conjuring,” “The Banshee Chapter” relies solely on “gotcha moments” and trying to make the viewer believe this story is based on fact. Yes, the MK-Ultra experiment did happen, but this story didn’t happen. It’s actually a very loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond.”
Anne’s journey is pretty uninvolving, and we don’t really know or care much for James – since we only see him in found footage. All we know is that he is her friend, and she really wants to find him. Other than that, he takes a drug that he figured would harm him, but wanted to try anyway. Why would anyone care for someone like that?
Winter gives a passable performance, but it’s hampered by a messy and uneven script. Levine steals the show, channeling Hunter S. Thompson with his role. He pulls out a few good one-liners, but his performance is not enough to carry the film.
The film’s synopsis states that “The Banshee Chapter” was shot in stereoscopic 3D. Unfortunately, the Chico Movie Examiner received a DVD screener for the film and was unable to see if the 3D added anything to the film. However, it doesn’t seem like it would.
“The Banshee Chapter” claims that the results of the MK-Ultra were “horrifying.” If so, they certainly don’t reflect well here. Every scare could have been effective. And in terms of visuals, they are actually somewhat terrifying. But each one is treated with the same tactic of unnecessary audio effects to “enhance” it. And when we reach the final minutes, there is this urge to immediately shout, “Called it!” Just, please, if you do see this in one of the few theaters in which it’ll be showing, don’t be disrespectful. Wait until the credits roll before shouting at the screen.