Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Jackals

My notes on Jackals 

In the 1980s, a wealthy, not-very-functional family get together to retrieve an errant son from some sort of death cult and hole up in a cabin in the woods with a deprogrammer … but a horde of silent types in Donnie Darko animal masks show up to besiege the place, and the night-long ordeal exposes even more cracks in the family’s relationships.  The message of this decently-made, unexceptional suspense film seems to be that if you have a relative who joins up with a pseudo-religious murder krewe it’s probably best to write the conscienceless little shit off as a loss and get on with your lives – which you will at least have, though a prologue establishes that even families who don’t seek to reclaim lost sons are liable to get their throats cut.


In the wake of the Manson murders, there was a rash of films along the lines of The Night God Screamed in which hippie cults took to terrorising innocent folks – this harks back to that sort of thing, but doesn’t put much thought into its villains’ beliefs.  Justin (Ben Sullivan) has changed his name to Thanatos – his baby daughter is called Zoe, which shows how on-the-nose Jared Rivet’s screenplay is – and is estranged from his rich Dad Andrew (salt and pepper Jonathan Shaech, resembling mid-career Chris Sarandon), divorced Mom Kathy (Deborah Kara Unger), yuppie brother Campbell (Nick Roux) and babymana Samantha (Chelsea Ricketts).  The family get back together at the cabin, and deprogrammer Jimmy (Stephen Dorff) stages a violent abduction – but Justin/Thanatos resists all appeals to family feeling even before the masked maniacs turn up like country cousins of the Assault on Precinct 13 gang.  When the attacks start, it’s whiny Campbell who makes the reasonable point that turning Justin over to the cult would be preferable to the whole family getting tortured and killed.  However, stubborn Andrew wants to prove a point … so the back and forth of sneak attacks, feints, hostages tortured in the front yard, desperate bursts of strength and foolish decisions continues until the end credits.  Most prominent in the cult are a hulking thug (Jason Scott Jenkins) and a whirling dervish fox girl (Alyssa Julya Smith).


As a siege thriller, there’s nothing new here.  The characters are sketched but serviceable, and the performances reasonable – though there’s a false equivalence between the patriarch who has had an affair and is controlling and materialistic with the one who wears a hood and kills random people for no apparent reason.  Directed by Kevin Greutert, who’s done a couple of Saw sequels (including the above-average Saw VI) and the okay ghost stories Jessabelle and Visions; he’s primarily an editor – all the way back to Saw and with The Strangers and The Collection on his CV.  He brings it in at a tight 85 minutes – which at least gets it all over with quickly.


Here’s a trailer.



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