THE BANSHEE CHAPTER (Toronto After Dark Review) THE BANSHEE CHAPTER Written and Directed by Blair Erickson
Starring Ted Lavine, Katia Winter and Michael McMillian
Under the codename, MKUltra, the US government performed numerous brainwashing and drug testing experiments on it’s citizens, staring in the early 1950’s and coming to an end in 1973. Fast forward to the present in Blair Erickson’s directorial debut, THE BANSHEE CHAPTER, where struggling novelist, James (Michael McMillian of “True Blood” fame) has acquired a seriously illegal and psychedelic drug called Dimethyltryptamine or DMT. Whatever his reasoning is, he decides to ingest this liquid. During his trip, he and his friend filming the action begin to hear bizarre music and voices coming from the radio. Soon, and without explanation, James’ disappears and his friend filming the events has been implicated in his murder. This puts into motion an investigation by green reporter, Anna Roland (Katia Winter), who was also very close friends with James during college. To find out exactly what happened, she gets a meeting with alcoholic author, Thomas Blackburn (Ted Lavine), who was responsible for delivering the drug to James to begin with. What she wasn’t expecting was stumbling into a world of CIA cover-ups, freaky Station Number recordings (which are actually real things, and just as terrifying) drug experimentation, and some sort of ghost-creature that begins to haunt them.
Erickson’s film mixes government history, archival footage and found footage elements but between this combination and his attempt to tackle too many things at once, it all culminates in a rather confusing and altogether nonsensical story. When the characters take the powerful drug, it’s difficult at first to know if they are hallucinating or if something really is after them. In case the audience really didn’t know what was going on, about 3/4 of the way through, Erickson has his author, Blackburn, give us the Coles notes version of H.P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond”. And if you’ve never read the story or seen the movie, it’s about a scientist who develops a machine that enables him to view into different dimensions where he sees different creatures, and eventually learns that the creatures can see him too. It’s at this moment in THE BANSHEE CHAPTER that things begin to possibly make sense, with this book report possibly explaining the director’s intentions. So it seems that taking DMT and listening to the creepy radio recordings makes the characters a beacon for the creatures to find them and kill them? Kidnap them? Maim them? To be honest it’s not entirely clear what any of the motives at play are, a theme that runs throughout the movie.
THE BANSHEE CHAPTER is full of cheap jump-scares and a confusing narrative that may not make for a strong debut feature, but definitely convinced me that first-time director, Erickson, will find his way in the filmmaking world, if he keeps working at it. He just needs to simplify his vision in the future and not attempt too many things all at once. He might also want to avoid such typical “surprise” endings while he’s at it.