Banshee Chapter, written and directed by Blair Erickson, is a new take on the H.P. Lovecraft story “From Beyond”. And while the story has been told in numerous ways over time, this latest entry is actually quite entertaining.
Anne is a journalist whose friend James has gone missing after taking the experimental drug dimethyltryptamine-19 – which has been part of government studies under Project MKUltra. MKUltra is an actual human research operation that ran from the early 1950s until 1973. It studied ways to manipulate the mental state of human beings and alter brain functionality. Of course, DMT-19 expands the mind to a point in which other worldly beings can then enter. Yes, the drug turns the human brain into a receiver of sorts, which is connected to a radio transmission that is being picked up on – most strongly in the desert. The transmission is a non-human voice reading a series of letters and numbers that make no sense – until the climax of the film.
Radio transmissions of this sort, especially ones that appear to be in a childlike voice, alone, are incredibly bothersome to me. I’ve read over the years about such types of broadcasts, with explanations being everything from government transmissions to amateur ham radio users communicating. The most troubling, however, is the concept that these transmissions could be from other planes of existence, or aliens, to say it simply. Banshee Chapter takes this concept, combined with the mind altering drugs, and turns it into an enjoyable 87-minute film.
The movie does start off a bit rocky. At first glance, it could be confused for a found footage film as James’ brief journey of taking DMT-19 is intercut with stock footage of government officials confirming, and apologizing, that MKUltra happened. The narrative changes, sometimes mixing in a bit of handheld camera footage, and moves on with the story. There are subtle scares throughout – which are quite eerie. Perhaps with a larger budget, which was one of the holdbacks of filming, these could have been further drawn out. Both money and time constraints are what have been noted for any downfalls of the film. Yet, as these scares stand in the film, they are very effective. There are a few moments intended to be frightening that are more annoying, however – like MKUltra test subjects screaming in sync with loud music cues. They are not necessary, but luckily the glimpses of the monstrous beings outweigh them in creating an unsettling environment.
Most commendable are Katia Winter and Ted Levine’s performances. Winter is simply convincing as Anne and Levine, but known as Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, is completely at home as Thomas Blackburn – a Hunter S. Thompson type character that has done DMT-19 as a recreational drug. The two have perfect chemistry for their adventure in trying to find James and the source of the transmission that seems to be bringing these beings into their safe realm. The characters themselves are given at least enough background and motive to make them believable and their actions do not seem overly farfetched.
While it is a story that has already been told, combining drug experimentation with the eerie radio transmissions, and just brief glimpses of monsters, provides the right level of disturbing imagery and storyline to make Banshee Chapter a worthwhile watch.