Up until a few days ago, MK Ultra was just a Muse song that I enjoyed off one of their recent albums. I always thought it referred to some kind of video game fad or perhaps a gasoline quality designation (Regular, Super, Premium, MK Ultra!). Turns out that MK Ultra is a CIA program designed to test drugs and techniques for mind control, truth acquisition and brainwashing. Think of the Shop as envisioned by Stephen King in Firestarter. A bunch of G men playing with LSD and other mind altering drugs as well as other form of torture, sexual abuse, sensory deprivation and dis/mis-information. Talk about the perfect lead up and back story for a movie or any movie or a whole subgenre of creepy pictures designed to play on your paranoia and create super human crazies out of unsuspecting citizens. That’s the way Banshee Chapter opens up, referring to this very same CIA program. The movie bases all the strange happenings around the basic premise that we are still feeling the effects of this program, that it was never shut down, that the anagrams and call signs have simply changed.
This is the big brother that locks you in the closet or sits on your face and farts or force feeds you his green beans or maybe even the dog droppings outside. Is the Banshee Chapter based in reality, drug induced or manipulated into our protagonists brain?
THE BANSHEE CHAPTER centers on a young, female journalist (Winter) who follows the mysterious trail of a missing friend (McMillian) that had been experimenting with mind-altering chemicals developed in secret government drug tests. Levine plays the role of a rogue counter-culture novelist with a penchant for substance abuse and firearms who leads the journalist into the mystery of dangerous chemical research. A fast-paced blend of fact and fiction, the film is based on real documents, actual test subject testimony, and uncovered secrets about covert programs run by the CIA.
It’s a shame that we have such a broad premise to start with and that there was no way to execute half of what could have been. It’s a great founding idea. It fills you with the worst thoughts, makes you questions all the right things and can actually scare you. What we got in Banshee Chapter wasn’t exactly an in depth look at the aftermath of this program or perhaps the continuation of said program but the story of how one isolated incident unfolds. How it is researched and ultimately how things can go terribly wrong very fast. That’s not to say that movie is without merit or that I didn’t enjoy Banshee Chapter. I did enjoy it, but I want more and I want it far away from the camera shake and faux documentary look given to this release. There are plenty of ways to tell a story; this just isn’t how I’d like to see it done.
The actors are actually perfect in their roles. Ted Levine is a creepy genius. I actually believed the characters, felt appropriate sympathy for them and cared about the overall outcome of the events. From a technical effect perspective, I’m glad that someone has brought back the rolled up to white, bleeding eyes look. Very creepy and well executed. The “banshee” sound is also well engineered for an effective and appropriate jump scare.
If this is a movie designed to start a new subgenre, the MK Ultra files with endless sequels and storylines evolving out of this “defunct” CIA project than I say bring it on and let the writers and filmmakers start their engines. There’s a lot to build on here. It’s not entirely original, but it could yield novel, non sequel, non-remake storylines that could entice horror fans. Just get some production value behind them and work on the choice of cinema style, camera angles and camera shake. Let’s make a movie that looks like a movie about the creepies that men make.
You can pick up Banshee Chapter in February! Or here… just take this blotter paper and stare at your blank TV for a couple hours.