FilmJuice have my review of Blair Erickson’s bizarrely incompetent horror movie The Banshee Chapter.
When I say “bizarrely incompetent”, I mean that while some of the set-pieces are incredibly effective and the opening vignette is incredibly eye-catching, the film has one of the most poorly-constructed narratives that I have ever encountered. People spit a lot of bile at the likes of Uwe Boll but despite making cheap, shoddy and astonishingly boring films, Boll is at least able to construct a cinematic world that makes some sort of sense.
Every style of storytelling has rules. Though some would argue that these rules are hard-wired into the human brain, a less Darwinian theory is that we are socialised into expecting certain kinds of story from certain kinds of work. Consider, for example, the way that Ruggero Deodata’s Cannibal Holocaust borrows techniques from documentary filmmaking and uses them to make his otherwise quite conventional horror film seem more terrifying. Another fine example of a work that transgresses the boundaries between genres is Stephen Volk’s Ghostwatch, which terrified Britain by using the tropes and faces of British TV to tell a fictional ghost story. Blair Erickson’s film also moves between a number of different genres and borrows from different cinematic traditions but rather than blurring the boundaries to create a particular effect, Erickson muddles the boundaries in a way that suggests he was incapable of telling the difference between them:
This is particularly glaring when Erickson continues to use found footage techniques despite the fact that the journalist is no longer keeping a video diary. It is one thing for the picture to go fuzzy and the camera to dart around in a panicky fashion when a terrified character is holding it, but why would there be interference and panicky camera movements when none of the characters are holding a camera? What is that interference supposed to represent? Erickson’s confusion of first-person and third-person perspectives on his cinematic world results in a world so broken and incoherent that it comes dangerously close to collapsing in a puddle of beautifully-edited gibberish.
Frequent visitors to this here site will doubtless have noticed that one of my most common complaints is that while a film may be beautifully made, it has absolutely nothing to say. This is undoubtedly a result of the fact that people can now go to film school, learn how to be a competent director, acquire the funds to make their own film and then realise that they have no particular message to convey or story to tell. While Auteur theory stresses the importance of vision and of having the freedom to fully realise that vision, it struggles when forced to content with neophyte directors who are still trying to find their feet. Undoubtedly a talented editor and a filmmaker with some potential, Erickson should have been reigned in by both a working script and a producer willing to ask uncomfortable questions but instead he seems to have been given free reign resulting in a film so stylistically incoherent that it is frequently impossible to tell what it is that we are supposed to be seeing.
Banshee Chapter could have been an atmospheric return to paths already well-trodden by the X-Files but instead it is an incoherent mess. While my review blames Erickson for his inability to tell a story, a more likely set of culprits are the producers who either failed to spot a foundering director or refused to throw him a life raft. Hollywood is now quite fond of marketing films on the basis of who produced them and the PR bullshit for this particular film listed Zachary Quinto’s involvement no less than three times. Based on Banshee Chapter alone, I’d say that ‘…from the dude who plays Spock in those terrible Star Trek movies’ is more of a bug than a feature.
I have noticed that complaint here from time to time.
The downside of reviewing films is having to watch ones about which there is nothing good to say. It’s not even fun. All that work going into the film, who doesn’t want it to be good? As you say, someone should have thrown a lifeline.
I do occasionally feel like I’m repeating myself :-)
One of the nice things about reading books about cinematic history is that you get the skinny on how films were really made; how the director was handed a pot of money by intimidated producers and disappeared off into the jungle, binged on drugs and produced utter nonsense. Unfortunately, the really interesting failures seldom merit books and the great directors are the ones who manage to avoid making those kinds of mistake.
I remember the US sitcom Entourage flirted with the idea of looking at that side of Hollywood but it rapidly moved away into fantasies of fast cars and girls.
Broken films sometimes tell far more interesting stories than successful ones and I’m always happy when I’m able to get a whiff of that and fold it into a review.
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