The “home-invasion” sub-genre has become a mainstay in horror since the beginning. From the early days of When a Stranger Calls or Straw Dogs, to modern day classics like The Strangers or You’re Next, the concept of a person (or people) breaking into the place that you call home is an idea that will always be terrifying. If done right, of course. Too often are these films carbon copies of one another. So much so that I eventually found myself becoming bored with the genre. That being said, if there are more gems out there like Scream Factory’s Jackals then I will happily seek them out. So what happens when you BRING the threat to your home? Let’s find out as we delve into this latest Scream Factory Films release.
As Justin Powell (Ben Sullivan) and an unnamed friend are traveling down an open road they are stopped and held at gunpoint. Justin is hauled into a van by two men in ski masks and dragged to a secluded cabin in the words. As it turns out, the men that perform this “kidnapping” just so happen to be Justin’s father, Andrew (Johnathon Schaech), and a cult deprogrammer by the name of Jimmy Levine (Stephen Dorff). When they arrive at the cabin the rest of the boy’s family is their waiting to assist in freeing him from the brainwashing he’s undergone at the hands of a vicious cult. Of course these plans take a nosedive when the cult, known as the Jackals, arrive at the cabin. Insanity ensues as they will stop at nothing to retrieve Justin, and leave no witnesses behind.
I enjoyed this flick from the very beginning. It’s a unique take on a genre that’s been oversaturated in the past few years. The characters are instantly relatable as they go into “fight mode”, preparing weapons to defend one another, before eventually succumbing to “flight mode”. Now, let’s start by talking cast. The small but engaging group of actors that came together to make this film really made it worth watching. Along with veterans Dorff, Schaech, and Deborah Kara Unger, you have new comers Nick Roux, Chelsea Ricketts, and, my personal standout, Ben Sullivan. Not too often do actors have the ability to perform devious acts and then make you feel bad for them. Sullivan has this ability. I was honestly having Devil’s Rejects flashbacks (IE the Firefly family torture scene). Stephen Dorff is always a stand out, even in less than stellar films (*cough* Alone in the Dark *cough*). Also, I’m a huge That Thing You Do! fan so seeing “Jimmy” pop up as a fatherly badass was a definite bonus.
The writing here, for the most part, is spectacular and, as cliché as it may sound, I was on the edge of my seat every moment. The tension built by Kevin Greutert’s directing is nerve racking and he had a fantastic script to work with. All of that being said, I do feel the ending left a lot to be desired. I couldn’t help but feel that the Greutert and writer, Jared Rivet, both had no clue how to end this film. A movie that felt really unique eventually went with the typical modern-day horror movie ending. I’m not going to give it away but you’ll know what I’m talking about once you see it; which you should see it! The ending was disappointing but it did not ruin the hour and twenty minutes I had spent engaged in this family’s story. You read that right, this film is a brisk 80 minutes not including credits; the perfect runtime for a film of this stature. Don’t worry, this runtime is welcome as there are very few breaks in tension and you’ll be searching for moments to breathe throughout.
These few breaks in tension though make for a fun thrill ride through terror. I can definitely recommend checking this film out when you have a chance. It’s a unique take on a classic home-invasion tale. I personally hope that the filmmakers follow up with a sequel of some sorts as I would love to learn more about the “Jackals” themselves. While I was a bit disappointed with the ending that doesn’t negate the fact that I had a hell of a good time with the film as a whole.
Jackals hits select theatres and VOD on September 1st, 2017.