Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
Banshee Chapter (Netflix) came to me highly recommended. I wouldn’t say it’s a great movie but it’s certainly several notches above most recent mid-grade horror. And mercifully it’s not found footage even though its documentary/investigation angle would lend itself perfectly to that hideously overused format.
The story starts with a filmmaker who takes some obscure drug on camera, supposedly in furtherance of an investigation into illegal government experiments. Shit goes sideways and he and his cameraman are never seen again. Along comes his best pal from college, a gorgeous journalist played by Katia Winter. Winter may be known to Sleepy Hollow fans as Ichabod’s wife Katrina. (Are there fans of Sleepy Hollow? I mean, it’s okay, right?)
This journalist starts following the clues to find out what happened, beginning with the strange sounds playing on the radio when her friend vanished. The trail will take her to the nifty world of shortwave radio operators and the real-life mystery of the so-called “numbers stations,” phantom frequencies that perpetually broadcast random numbers and words from unknown locations for unknown reasons.
This touches on one of my particular fetishes when it comes to supernatural horror. Movies like White Noise are right up my alley because the idea of technology accidentally tapping into something incomprehensible sounds totally plausible to me. (As does bigfoot. Shut up.)
The otherworldly connection between the chemical compound and the numbers stations is pretty solid until it comes time to pay the check. It feels like writer-director Blair Erickson had a great idea for a supernatural thriller but no clue as to how how to finish it. He fails to answer fundamental questions like, is there a tangible entity involved or not? I suppose the ambiguity may be intentional but I found it frustratingly lazy. It’s his first real movie so I’m sure he’ll do better next time.
Banshee Chapter gets bogged down a little in the conspiracy angle, which frankly is superfluous. There’s a lot of grainy, black and white footage from a secret bunker depicting horrific experiments, blah blah blah. So sure, suppose those tapes did survive for 40 years or whatever. Suppose this lady did get her hands on them within like two days of looking despite the fact that no one has ever managed to do so before. If I was her, I’d just run to the cops and be all, “Hey, the government is torturing U.S. citizens and got my friend killed!” She just sees all those atrocities as another piece of the puzzle. At the very least that would be enough to get a guest spot on Good Morning America.
Added bonus: Ted Levine is the shit. You probably remember him as Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs but you’ve seen him in at least a handful of other films. He has a deep, croaking voice, furrowed, leathery skin and a permanent expression of sarcastic displeasure with the world. He’s always good but in this movie he really shines, bringing real gravity to what on the page must have been a one-note Hunter S. Thompson knockoff. Banshee Chapter owes approximately 58.9% of its value to Levine’s presence.