The Banshee Chapter

Year: 2013
Production Co: Sunchaser Entertainment
Director: Blair Erickson
Writer: Blair Erickson, Daniel J Healey
Cast: Katia Winter, Ted Levine

As far as I can see there's no behind the scenes link between this film and The Atticus Institute, which I watched and enjoyed recently, but I couldn't help but notice one of the characters wearing a T shirt reading 'Atticus University'. So if it's not a nod to some unexplored shared universe between the two films, maybe director and co-writer Blair Erickson was just as much a fan as I was.

He/she attempts something slightly similar in that it's about government experimentation leading to the supernatural and it's done using (some) found footage. We open on James, a college student being recorded by his friend while taking dimethyltryptamine-19, the drug used in the CIA's covert MKUltra experiments in the 60s. James and his friend are investigating the truth behind the black program and their at the stage of taking the drug and seeing what it does.

Not long after, James becomes frantic about some presence he feels approaching the house, making his friend wonder if he's punking him. But something huge descends on the house, chaos ensues, and the last shot we see is of James coming into frame, his eyes black and his face contorted and white, apparently possessed by whatever's shown up.

We then cut to reporter Anne, a longtime friend of James who's decided to investigate the disappearances of both he and his friend, who vanished from police custody a few days later while they were questioning him about James' own disappearance.

While poring over James' notes and video taken during the original MKUltra experiments, Anne learns about a strange radio signal broadcast that contains a lot of white noise and what sounds like little kids speaking in a strange language.

She goes to a local expert for advice who tells her the mysterious broadcast is one of several well known to amateur radio operators and that it traditionally emanates from some arbitrary spot out in the desert late at night. When she goes out to find the source, Anne gets a bad fright when something dark and malevolent appears in the darkness nearby.

Pursuing another lead, she finds that the 'friend in Colorado' mentioned in James' notes is Blackburn (Ted Levine), a burned out writer very obviously modelled off Hunter S Thompson who lives in a sprawling desert house, taking drugs and causing trouble with locals.

When she finally gets past Blackburn's many attempts to rebuff her and finds her way into his house, he takes the drug and tricks her into taking it too, setting of a surge of panic as the pair, along with Blackburn's hippie girlfriend, sense something coming towards them just like James and his friend did. When the entity attacks and disfigures Blackburn's girlfriend the pair flee into the night, Anne determined to make Blackburn help her find the source of the radio broadcast and stop it.

The connection between the strange broadcast, the drug and the doorway to the paranormal all leads to the desert bunker where they originally held the MKUltra experiments and where the truth about the radio signal, the origin of the drug's recipe and what happened to James are revealed.

It's well enough shot and there's an appropriately creepy darkness in a lot of the cinematography during some of the key scare scenes. The main problem with the whole thing is that as opposed to The Atticus Institute, which was a lot more realistic and documentary-like in its approach, the acting is a bit ropey here and keeps you from really buying into the whole thing to the same degree. It also needed either a premise that lets you get a much firmer grip on it or better scripting in the third act to bring the threads of the mystery together.

And yes, that is the same Ted Levine who played Buffalo Bill in the immortal The Silence of the Lambs all that time ago.

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