Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the horror feature JACKALS by director Kevin Greutert. To best describe the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:
“An estranged family hires a cult deprogrammer to take back their teenage son from a murderous cult, but find themselves under siege when the cultist surround their cabin, demanding the boy back.”
The opening firmly sets us in the eighties, still considered the golden age of horror in many circles. Heck, they even used a first person camera shot opening to track the killer’s bloody run through a house. As a fan of horror, and of that time period, I began to mentally write this off as another in the many retro features trying to tap into our collective nostalgia. Then, once they had me lulled into a false sense of security, they pulled some movie magic.
The main feat they accomplished was playing out the scenario completely straight without a single wink to the audience, pop-culture reference, or much in the way of humor. It set this apart from the recent glut of eighties inspired nostalgia trips as it allowed for the focus to remain on the horror of the situation rather than trying to name check popular brands or movies from the time. In some ways it made this feel more like the pictures from that time as they kept their focus on creating a sense of dread by emphasizing silence, brutality, and seemingly no hope scenarios.
Speaking of the situation at play, the offered up an interesting take on the slasher genre by having the threat be as internal as it is external. The fact that the son is an unwilling hostage makes him just as hostile towards his family as the cult members that are trying to bring him back into the fold. As the wicked sect tries to reclaim their lost believer, the family begins to argue about whether or not the rehabilitation of their one son is worth all of their lives. The moral quandary this presents leads to dynamic arguments that blur the family lines and calls into question if their motives are pure or just pure stubbornness.
The internal tensions are bad, but the external stressors are downright deadly. Our animal masked killers make their intentions clear right from the start, without even speaking a single word. From that point on they are cold, methodical, and downright brutal in the pursuit of their goal. What makes them even scarier is that they truly believe that what they are doing is correct. This fact might not even be voiced by the members of the cult, but the blind allegiance the son has for his adopted sect and his willingness to shout their praises provides us all the insight we need to draw conclusions about the blood crazed followers.
Sadly, this piece is not perfect as some of the actors are notably better than others. Some of this comes down to how certain characters were written, but there were a few instances of just annoying performances. This made certain scenes rather painful to watch as I just could not connect with certain roles or portrayals.
That being said, the characters and performances that worked were absolute dynamite. While I could sing the praises of Stephen Dorff or Johnathon Schaech, the biggest surprise was Ben Sullivan who I had never seen in anything before. His portrayal provided plenty of tension as he perfectly walked the line between crazed follower and possibly reformed family member. Each moment he had was dynamic, with an uncertain charisma that just oozed off of the screen. For someone that is entirely new to me, he was perfect in nearly every scene and memorably creepy.
One final thing worth mentioning before I go is the score. I will admit, I really only recall certain tones in the soundtrack that seem designed to stir dread in the listener. Beyond those one or two notes, I cannot seem to remember anything else about the music. Even with all of those cards on the table, I have to say that the score still elicited a sinister, uncomfortable feeling on par with the sound of the horn from The Purge (2013). While the music will not be a staple at Halloween events, it still manages to stir a sense of impending doom that only adds to the hopelessness.
All in all, this is a straightforward, dread filled take on the slasher genre that takes no prisoners. While the acting might be a bit uneven, the people who shine bright really make this worthwhile. Fans of movies like The Purge (2013) and Halloween (1978) will find some similar elements at play in this chiller.
JACKALS arrives in select theaters and On Demand September 1st, 2017