Despite the fact that it’s a low budget film in a marketplace that is getting ever more crowded with similar horror tinged products, Jackals shows it has a couple of moves that make it a memorable movie. The film is showing this week at the Sitges Film Festival as part of the Panorama Fantastic strand.
To kick things off and get the audience in the right frame of mind we witness a home invasion from the point of view of the intruder. Although their motive is not clear, it ends badly for the occupants of the suburban home. The main story that follows sees a couple of young guys getting forced off the road and one of them getting bundled into the back of a van by two masked men. It turns out that this is an intervention and Justin, the man being kidnapped, has taken up with an extreme and particularly sinister cult. He is taken to a cabin where the rest of his family is waiting for him. As the de programming gets underway, it becomes apparent that the family is not alone. The cult has followed them there and they want their acolyte back.
What the film lacks in budget and spectacle is more than made up for in terms of atmosphere and tension. This is partly down to the choice of the setting and the use of the surroundings it offers. The cabin in the woods setting is familiar to most horror fans. Here it’s a little better presented as it is a holiday home rather than a spooky old shack. Even so, once the siege begins it becomes oppressive and has a genuine claustrophobic atmosphere to it. The majority of the drama takes place within the lounge area and it is here that the film makers excel utilising the space to great effect. It is clever and very effective.
The cast is fronted by Stephen Dorff as the guy hired by the family to bring their son back to them. His character is all suppressed violence and menace. In a lot of ways he is as cruel as a cult member. The only thing that differentiates him from the dark side is his intentions. Wisely Dorff keeps his performance under check and resists the opportunities to take him over the top. Ben Sullivan as Justin fills that particular role. He is suitably nasty and devious from the first time he opens his mouth. It is pitched just right and avoids going into the territory or pastiche much to the credit of the actor and the direction given to him.
The best thing about the cult, and another solid choice on the part of the film maker, is the total lack of information about them. At no point do we see any of their faces as they all have rather creepy leather animal masks on at all times. There is no exposition from either Justin or the supposedly charismatic cult leader. Having no doctrine to spout it is left to their actions to speak for them. That they turn so easily to bloody violence to inform the audience of what they are all about.
Overall, a tense and efficient horror that leans on tension over gore but isn’t afraid to go there if required.
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