Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Banshee Chapter (2013): Drugs And Techno Don't Mix, But Create Great Suspense!

Review by Marie Robinson

I had good feelings about The Banshee Chapter (a.k.a. simply Banshee Chapter) from the moment I heard about it, and my gut was not wrong.

The film begins with footage of James Hirsch (Michael McMillian, True Blood), an aspiring writer who becomes fascinated with an alleged hallucinogenic drug that the U.S. government once tested on unwitting patients, with disturbing results that have been kept secret ever since. James acquires the drug, which is described as a pure—and therefore much more potent—batch of Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) from “friends in Colorado” and gets a buddy of his to film him as he ingests it. It isn’t long until James and his sober friend are visited by some mysterious malevolent entity, which results in the disappearance of the pair.

After hearing about the incident, old college friend and investigative journalist Anne Roland (Katia Winter, Sleepy Hollow) decides to embark on a mission to uncover the truth not only about James’ disappearance, but also the truth about the drug. Nothing could ever prepare her for what she finds, which include sinister government experiment tapes, cryptic radio broadcasts, and the horror of the cosmos. She is joined by a Hunter S. Thompson-esque character named Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs) who can help her piece together the rest of the mystery; but finding the answers could be deadly.

Dimethyltryptamine, also known as DMT, is a hallucinogen that when ingested offers an intense and immersive experience. While on the drug one may feel completely separate from reality, and many have reported seeing strange, celestial beings. There is a subculture that believes that these sights and experiences are not merely hallucinations, but actual transcendence. Such was the subject of the 2010 documentary DMT: The Spirit Molecule. DMT is found commonly in mammals, and has been located in the human brain where it acts as a neurotransmitter. Since DMT has been discovered in the pineal gland, it is thought to be one of the chemicals released when one dreams… and dies.

A few years ago a friend of mine turned me on to a very peculiar variety of shortwave radio broadcasts called “number stations”. Number stations are characterized by an artificial voice reciting numbers and/or letters. The voice, played only against crackling static, is more often than not female, and sometimes sounds like that of a child. Sometimes the voice gives way to a stream of choppy music that sounds similar to me like that of an ice cream truck. The nature of these encoded broadcasts is essentially unknown, but is often speculated as being government-run stations used to transmit messages to spies. Whatever they really are, they are downright eerie.

The Banshee Chapter is an impressive directorial debut from Blair Erickson that incorporates elements from both found footage and mockumentary subgenres in an intriguing and creative way. The film is smart, entertaining, and—oh, yes—scary. There were plenty of chilling moments that had my skin crawling, and I jumped out of my seat more than once. The story is not only presented in a stimulating way, it is also a compelling story with feelings of Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” and overtones of H.P. Lovecraft. A particular story of Lovecraft’s, “From Beyond”, is directly referenced in the film, but the similarities go deeper than just that.

Treat yourself to something different than all those possession films flooding the box office, and maybe even get unnerved by The Banshee Chapter.

*And below is a sample of one of the many "numbers stations" out there....


Anonymous said...

Awesome review. Dying to see this one! It's probably my most anticipated film recently, next to HERE COMES THE DEVIL.


Jennifurla said...

This is one I really want to see myself, I think it's ondemand right now. I need to watch it!

Marie Robinson said...

Thanks, James! I have a screener of "Here Comes the Devil". Very excited to watch it!!