September 1, 2017 Jackals (Movie Review)
Directed by Kevin Greutert (Saw VI 2009, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter 2010) and written by Jared Rivet (Raw Footage 2007, Blood and Paralyzed 2011), the new film Jackals is not cult Horror in the way one might think. No, Jackals, coming to theaters and VOD on September 1, 2017 through Scream Factory Films, is quite literally a film about a cult.
Claustrophobic and often confusing, this Thriller follows an estranged family, The Powells, who have enlisted the help of cult deprogrammer Jimmy Levine (Stephen Dorff: Immortals 2011, Blade 1998) in an attempt to free their teenaged son Justin (Ben Sullivan: Stonewall 2015, The 100 2017) from the clutches of the murderous and masked cult known as, you guessed it, The Jackals. Set in the early 1980s, Jackals is supposedly based on true events from that era, a fact given to the viewer on a splash screen that adds just a bit of extra tension to the story.
The film begins with an incongruous first person scene that gives viewers their first bloody taste of the Jackals. Shot with a single camera, this opening scene is reminiscent of Found-Footage films like 1999’s The Blair Witch Project or even some Horror video games. Viewers are overwhelmed by the heavy breathing of the subject carrying the camera and other oppressive sound design choices that are sure to provide cinemagoers with a few jump scares. However, this opener has little to do with anything that comes after, whether it be story or style.
The true story begins when Justin is kidnapped at gunpoint on the side of a dusty road, but it is soon learned that this is not your average kidnapping as we soon find out it was orchestrated by Justin’s father Andrew (Johnathon Schaech: Prom Night 2008, That Thing You Do! 1996), mother Kathy (Deborah Kara Unger: The Game 1997, Crash 1996), brother Campbell (Nick Roux: Lemonade Mouth 2011, Tomato Red 2017), and girlfriend Samantha (Chelsea Ricketts: True Blood 2008, Scream Queens 2015). Not to mention, Samantha and Justin’s baby daughter, Zoe is also in the mix.
Centered around the Powells secluded cabin set deep in the woods, former Marine Jimmy keeps the brainwashed Justin tied up and puts him under grueling interrogation in order to reverse the psychological damage done by the Jackals, who Justin, is also known as Thanatos by his cult “family.” However, Justin only continually spouts some seriously creepy lines about bloodbaths and murder. Of course, soon enough, the Jackals surround the Powells’ cabin, desperate to get their lost brother Thanatos back into the fold. As the Jackals swoop in, the cracks in the already-fractured relationships between the Powells continue to deepen. Can they hold it together enough to save Justin and themselves?
Honestly, it is very difficult to care whether or not any of the Powells make it out alive. Not a single one of the rich, white, and privileged characters gives the viewers any reason to sympathize with them. In fact, there are several occasions where it is easier to root for the faceless “bad guys,” though truly, each character could be considered a villain in his or her own right.
Since these characters give the viewer no reason to worry for their well-being, any semblance of tension dissipates like the fog that inexplicably surrounds the family’s cabin. In addition, the fact that the Jackals, which the viewer learns nothing about, would go to such lengths to retrieve their lost lamb seems unlikely—a weak plot point used only as an excuse to serve up some bloody killings.
While the performances are convincing, particularly those of the malicious and creepy Sullivan and the stuck-up older brother Roux, the attempts at exposition through dialogue fell flat. The most interesting aspect of this film was the crumbling family dynamic spurred on by Justin’s presence. If Jackals had leaned harder into these characters, then maybe the audience might not be rooting for the Jackals to just get it over with already. A little more information about the Jackals themselves might have served to add some much-needed context—the name is not even said in dialogue!
All this said, what Jackals lacks in likable characters and enticing plot, it makes up for would with some killer cinematography thanks to Andrew Russo (Nanny Cam 2014, Girl on the Edge 2015). The story itself may not grab viewers, but there are certain to be some silhouetted shots that will stick in their mind for days to come. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Jackals 2.5 out of 5 stars.