Perhaps the two key ingredients to a well-crafted horror film (after the story itself, of course) are the sound design and editing. Many poorly acted movies have still hit their marks thanks to these technical strengths. Writer-director Blair Erickson's Banshee Chapter is actually solidly acted throughout (especially by Katia Winter as the film's heroine, Anne), but it's Erickson's superb manipulation of sound, pacing and jolts of jump-out-of-your-seat images that make his feature debut work so well. Investigative reporter James (Michael McMillian) ingests an experimental drug that was part of secret government experiments on unsuspecting subjects in the '60s—he's wrapping up an expose and wants to see for himself what the drug's effects are—and then vanishes. Anne, his best friend from college and also a reporter, sets off to discover what happened to him, and finds herself pulled into a tale of government cover-ups on a massive scale. It's all told against a backdrop of spooky desert settings and the creepily isolated home of a drug-addled Hunter S. Thompson type (Ted Levine) whose backstory is more than tangentially related to the unfolding nightmare. Weaving in real-life cases of horrific government experiments on its citizens (and actual newsreels and news clips), Erickson grounds his tale in X-Files–style conspiracy theories rooted in reality. The film's low budget is obvious at times in the look of the film, and sometimes clues are too easily uncovered by characters (who often make some classic horror-flick stupid choices), but Erickson proves himself a filmmaker to watch.
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