The Banshee Chapter is one worth killing the lights, turning off the cell and letting it build to its effective, nerve-fraying crescendo…”

Whenever a film introduces mind-altering drugs to its leads, it affords it the opportunity to play by its own rules. It’s what it does with these rules that matters, and where many lesser films can fall apart.

Based on an actual US military experiment that administered such brain-blistering chemicals as LSD, heroin, mescaline, MDMA, and psilocyban to unsuspecting humans, The Banshee Chapter has a pharmacological wonderland within which to establish its on-screen universe.

The film opens, amidst actual archival footage of the government admitting to said program, with the fictional James Hirsch (played by Michael McMillan), who decided to gulp a governmental cocktail of unknown ingredients, then disappears shortly after filming the trip.

The Banshee Chapter
Directed by
Blair Erickson
Ted Levine, Katia Winter, Michael McMillian
Release Date
12 December 2013
Rob’s Grade: A-

His vanishing act has caught the attention of his college pal Anne Roland (played by Katia Winter), who is now a hard-nosed reporter hungry for answers. To help guide her through the modern-day mind-expanding culture, she enlists the services of Thomas Blackburn (played by superb character actor Ted Levine), a Hunter S. Thompson-esque writer who drug dalliences provide the warped wisdom to guide her in her search for truth.

And the fact that the search is not only dipped in the world of drugs, but drugs illegally administered by the government creates a heightened level of paranoia and dread throughout the film. It marks an amazingly accomplished debut for first-time filmmaker/writer Blair Erikson, who knows his way around scaring the shit out of an audience. By the time the film enters its third act, set in an underground fallout bunker, the atmosphere and anxiety created by Erikson have met a fever pitch that feels both logical and inevitable.

But the jolts never feel cheap or without purpose. And given the fact that we may or may not be in a world of altered reality leave the door wide open to the possibilities of just what may lurk ahead. Winter is a strong presence and it’s easy to buy her strength and determination. It helps also that Levine (best known for his iconic role in “Silence of the Lambs”) is our chemically infused conductor on this trippy train ride and revels in the opportunity to let his freak flag fly.

The Banshee Chapter is one worth killing the lights, turning off the cell and letting it build to its effective, nerve-fraying crescendo, which is exactly what horror films set out to do, but few seldom reach.

Review by Rob Rector, Lead Entertainment Writer