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"The Banshee Chapter" movie review

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The Banshee Chapter

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The most daring, curious people often set out to expose the truth in long-standing mysteries, as they yearn to solve conflicts and bring closure to long debated ambiguities. This is certainly the case for the main character, Anne Roland, in the new independent horror thriller, 'The Banshee Chapter,' which is now available on Long Island on VOD, including iTunes. First-time feature filmmaker Blair Erickson, who both wrote and directed the movie, created a determined protagonist, played by Katia Winter, who will stop at nothing to expose the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of one of her friends, even if it means putting her own life in danger.

'The Banshee Chapter' follows a young journalist, Anne Roland (Winter), who sets out to uncover what happen to her missing friend from college, James Hirsch (Michael McMillian). James mysteriously disappears after experimenting with mind-altering drugs that were secretly used by the government in the 1960s on unsuspecting victims. Aided by a rogue counter-culture writer, Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine), Anne finds herself drawn into the dangerous world of top-secret government chemical research and the mystery of a disturbing radio signal of unknown origin. The film is based on real documents, actual test subject testimony and uncovered covert programs run by the CIA.

As a first-time writer and director, Erickson cleverly showcased his natural ability to both explore the theories of popular conspiracy theories around government testing of drugs on innocent people. Instead of presenting an unmotivated documentary that blandly states the facts of the CIA's covert programs, the filmmaker used the found footage genre to his advantage to show James and Anne's fear of the drugs' unknown effects. With the help of the skilled camerawork from cinematographer Jeremy Obertone, Erickson started the horror thriller with stable, handheld shots that clearly showed the journalists' determined exploration into the government's actions. But once Anne, Thomas and James came too close to discovering the truth, the cameras the characters were using became shaky and unsteady, which grippingly echoed their ever-growing fear. However, the shots were still were clear enough to show their determination to finish their investigation.

Winter, who has made a name for herself on such television shows as 'Sleepy Hollow' and 'Dexter,' proved her ability to quickly adapt to any character she plays. While she was cast as Anne several days before 'The Banshee Chapter' began shooting, and she didn't have much time to fully research the subject of covert government operations, the actress was still able to fully embrace her character's struggles. Whether Anne was missing James, contending with her drive to find out what really happened to him and her initial distrust of Thomas' writing and beliefs, Winter naturally continued to infuse the troubled protagonist with a focused drive to find her friend, and never let anyone influence her decisions.

The actress also built an intriguing on-screen relationship with Levine, who realistically and cunningly played Thomas as someone who understandably lost his morals and life's purpose as he also delved into the drug experiments. With Thomas being a popular writer on conspiracy theories, Anne comes to trust him, as she needs to depend on him to find answers. But with Levine's cunning portrayal of the startling, deceptive writer, it becomes increasing difficult for both audiences and Anne to truly know who he is, and how he'll affect her investigation.

Production designer Kristen Adams helped infuse visual scares into the horror thriller with her seemingly normal, yet subtly creepy, locations. From the abandoned field Anne travels to to listen to radio broadcasts of unknown origins, which may offer clues into where James was taken, to the sterile, menacing examination rooms where innocent victims were taped being unwillingly tested on, Adams helped create the tense world Anne unexpectedly falls into. The isolated places Anne travels to in order to find her missing friend continuously give off emotionally and physically eerie feelings that she shouldn't be exploring them alone. But the further she delves into their connections to James' investigation, the more curiosity and unanswered questions she uncovers.

'The Banshee' Chapter' is an intriguing, mysterious and striking first-time effort from Erickson, who impressively showed his understanding of what makes the horror thriller frightening. The filmmaker cleverly infused elements of the found-footage genre into the film, cleverly emphasizing Anne, Thomas and James' concern over how the government was using unsuspecting people for their experiments through the at-times shaky camera movements. Combined with Winter's captivating on-screen relationship with Levine, as they continuously trick each other to gain the upper hand in their increasingly dire situation, as well as the intriguing production design by Adams, the film proves that subtle effects can be the most gripping and terrifying.

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