Toronto After Dark: The Banshee Chapter (2013) – Blair Erickson

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The Scary Night programme of Toronto After Dark came to a frightening close last night at Scotiabank, with the film I have been most looking forward to all festival, The Banshee Chapter.

Using the 1950s MK Ultra experiments (something I only learned about because of The X-Files initially) as its launching point, the story follows a reporter, Anne Roland (Katia Winter), whose friend, James (Michael McMillian) has taken some of the infamous drug cocktail, which is supposed to swing open the doors of perception, the CIA was using and has injected himself with it, with terrifying results.

This was the one I figured would freak me out the most, it has a basis in real events (the experiments are on record as having taken place), looked, from the trailer to potentially involve EBEs and some spooky, governmental paranoia. I was ready!

Did it freak me out? Not so much. But did I enjoy it, I answer with a resounding yes!

The set up, interweaving the film’s MK Ultra footage with actual historical interviews, makes things all the more believable, and the fact that you don’t get to see everything works wonders in this film, harkening back to the idea that sometimes it’s best to let your imagination fill in the spaces, and things tend to be scarier that way.

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The audience obviously thought so, jumping, gasping and clutching at hands as Anne explores dark homes, and government institutions looking for a clue to her missing friend.

Along the way she meets up with Thomas Blackburn, wonderfully played by Ted Levine, a Hunter S. Thompson character who is also taking the drug, and may have made Anne ingest some as well…

It’s moments, with James, Anne or those surrounding them, that prove to be the most unnerving when the drug takes hold, because then they keep saying creepy things, like they’re getting closer, they’re almost here, they’re outside, or they’re downstairs, and then with a suitably set up creep factor, you see, or think you see something move, and it just puts you right on edge.

There’s also some serious creep going on with radios in this movie, they’ll spark to life, and start playing this odd, discomfiting music, and random words or numbers that you can never quite make out. This is a huge indicator that something, is around and getting closer.

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I don’t want to spoil what may actually be going on in this film but I realized it just a step ahead of Anne. My brain said, you have to stop that, and being the hero of the piece, she with Blackburn in tow, make the journey to one of the underground installations where the experiments, which they’ve shown us throughout the film, cut into the main story, to suitably set up what we can expect when Anne arrives there, were conducted.

Erickson and his cast and crew have created a wonderfully enjoyable film, that relies heavily on jump scares, but they aren’t cheap, they’re earned, they’re set-up, and even when you’re absolutely sure you know it’s going to happen it can take you by surprise, and then you add in the ones you don’t know about or expect, and you have made sure the audience is on the edge of their seats.

Nice work.

For sheer enjoyment, this has to be one of my faves of the festival, it has a strong X-Files feel, a strong heroine with a bouncing flashlight beam tends to put me in mind of that kind of thing, it doesn’t necessarily give you all the answers, and lets you draw some of your own conclusions (another thing I like in the film), and Ted Levine has some fantastic lines, and turns in a great performance!

I loved this one!

The Festival wraps up this evening with their Closing Night films Cheap Thrills and Big Bad Wolves. What are you watching After Dark?

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