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MK-Ultra - one hell of a drug
on 25 January 2014
Films have used technology as a conduit for creepiness for a long time. Ringu, Shutter, Videodrome, One Missed Call - all varying in quality, but the list goes on and on. There's just something very disturbing about staring into static and suddenly finding someone staring back.
Banshee Chapter explores the idea of number stations - shortwave radio stations that emit random sequences of numbers for no apparent reason - which are actually real and pretty creepy in themselves. Our heroine investigates the disappearance of a friend who recently took a secret drug developed by the government, documented on a tape that was interrupted by one of these stations. She uses her skills as a journalist to investigate the drug further, following the pathway of this station's range. She discovers that whoever takes this drug usually disappears, stating something along the lines of "they're here" and triggering the number station to play on any nearby radios. (This will be familiar fare to any fans of recent internet urban legend. I would be shocked if the writer or crew weren't inspired by SCP or Slenderman, or any of their spinoffs.)
The film has an interesting tone, and didn't fall into the trap of making their characters unlikeable or underdeveloped. I cared about the main character, and found that she acted fairly logically and understandably for the situation (or, as much as the situation allowed). The story was well paced, well timed, and the scares were ok, if a little predictable.
I think that is my main criticism for Banshee. While the idea of it is very scary - number stations, a mystery drug, government testing, Lovecraftian themes - it never really lives up to it's themes. It is scary in parts, but there's so much you could do with those ideas that doesn't lead down the usual jump scare and handheld, grainy found footage roads. It's not as predictable as, say, a slasher like Scream, but a seasoned horror fan could see some of the scares coming a mile off. And those scares were usually, oh look, there's a person there that wasn't before or oh, that guy has no eyes. It could have been so, so inventive and great but it was just - decent.
Banshee also suffers from quite hokey special effects - the scary reveals are always fairly brief to combat this - but that doesn't really detract from the scares or enjoyment of the film. It seems to be a pretty low budget production so it's understandable, and personally, I'd prefer to see a story and script up to standard than excellent SFX.
Aside from the excellent number station motif, the sound design is also quite lame. Heart beats, soaring strings, occasionally a random synth... It's all usual horror film fare, and I would have liked to have heard something a bit more subtle or original to match the interesting subject matter.
Aside from all that, Banshee is still quite an interesting and entertaining horror movie. There are some genuine jump scares and an overall creepiness that you won't forget for a while. With a bit of polishing, it could have been excellent, but as it stands it's an ok film.