Home invasion films are a great subgenre of the horror world, largely due to the fact that the premise is so simple. It’s a basic man-in-the-box plot — characters are confined to one, or mostly one, location and that’s where all the action takes. It’s a very easy idea to set up and pull off. The trick is doing it well and the films that do that rise to the top. When you use this idea for a horror film and make the one location the home of your characters under attack it adds an extra layer of fear. Home is supposed to be a safe place. If you’re vulnerable at home then you’re not really safe anyway and that’s a truly frightening realization to come to. Jackals, the new film from director Kevin Greutert and writer Jared Rivet uses this home invasion idea and throws in a dash of Satanic panic.
Jackals takes place in the 80’s and follows the Powell family — father Andrew (Johnathon Schaech), mother Kathy (Deborah Kara Unger) and son Campbell (Nick Roux) — as they try and reconnect with estranged little brother Justin (Ben Sullivan). Assisting the Powell family in their endeavor is Justin’s girlfriend Samantha (Chelsea Ricketts) and an ex-marine named Jimmy (Stephen Dorff).
The audience doesn’t get the whole backstory on what happened with Justin to cause this falling out, but we know it’s bad. He’s joined a cult, one of the Satanic variety, and things aren’t looking good. In order to pull him away from the cult they kidnap and tie him to a chair in one of the rooms located on the second level of the house. Justin is so far removed from his family and committed to this cult that he doesn’t care about anything. He won’t even give into the pleas of his girlfriend and the crying of his newborn child. The cult is Justin’s new family.
The plan for returning Justin to the person they all remember is through the use of an extreme sort of therapy. That’s where Jimmy comes in. Jimmy specializes in helping un-brainwash those that have been brainwashed by cults. It’s an interesting profession, to say the least, but apparently, Jimmy has had great success with it. Unfortunately, Jimmy hasn’t dealt with a case as bad as Justin’s. Complicating matters is the fact that the cult won’t let go of Justin just as he won’t abandon him. As the family desperately tries to get through to Justin, members of the cult surround the home determined to do whatever they can to save one of their own.
Every now and then I see a movie like this that just hooks me right off the bat. And I don’t mean that Jackals simply pulled me in and held my attention. This movie had me on edge right from the jump. I was panicked and worried that something terrible was going to happen because I knew for certain that something terrible would happen. And you know what happened? Terrible things! And trying to brace myself for it did no good. I was jumpy and freaked out the whole time because Jackals does a wonderful job creating suspense and tension.
Home invasion thrillers with a slasher mentality aren’t anything new. Strangers, Ils and You’re Next immediately come to mind. Jackals operates in the same space as those films but the attackers have a different purpose and that’s what makes it work despite it being similar to recent films. And I’m not saying Jackals is better than any of those three films, but rather pointing out that this is cut from the same cloth.
Adding to the tension Andy suspense is the fact that the intruders aren’t the only conflict present. Inside the house, the family has their own issues that slowly begin to rise to the surface. As the film approaches the climax the audience is presented with layers of different conflicts all waiting to explode at once.
And of course, the film is violent and bloody, which we all want in a slasher. The final scene is incredibly brutal. It’s one of those moments that I want to watch but can’t help but look away just a tad.
Jackals gets all my recommendations. This checks all my required boxes for a good home invasion thriller. It’s suspenseful, creepy, scary, and bloody. What more do you need?
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