Monday, September 11, 2023

(Cult) Family First


I don't expect much from a horror movie I've never heard of streaming on Peacock, but low expectations have never kept me from watching a horror movie I've never heard of so here we go!

Quick Plot: A mean little prologue gives us the POV, Michael Meyers-style of a man entering his family's house in order to murder his parents and little sister. Considering this movie's runtime is all of 86 minutes, I'll throw out a theory here that our prologue may have been a last minute "we need more minutes" move.

Next, we meet the Powells at their remote cabin. Mom Kathy (the ever feline Debra Kara Unger) is good with granddaughter Zoey and even better with a glass of white wine, while divorced husband Andrew (Masters of Horror alum Johnathon Schaech) has a different task at hand: donning a mask and kidnapping eldest son Justin with the help of deprogrammer Jeff (Stephen Dorff) for a weekend of tough love. 

Also in tow is Samantha, Justin's suffering girlfriend, and Campbell, the estranged brother who didn't get along with Justin even before he joined a violent satanic cult. As soon as the sun sets, the intervention takes a turn as Justin's "real" family shows up in animal masks and black leather outerwear to take him back.

It didn't surprise me to see the first bit of IMDB trivia describing Jackals as a 15-day shoot. Despite a surprisingly recognizable cast, there's something exceedingly quick and small about the production. That's not always a bad thing: director Kevin Greutert spent years editing and eventually directing in the Saw franchise, which infamously began down and dirty. There's certainly plenty of precedent. 

Unfortunately, Jackals clearly didn't have the time or means (or maybe even desire?) to find much meat in the material. It's a perfectly fine concept for a horror movie, and with better-than-average performances from the more seasoned cast, we end up with an adequately made cheap horror film. 

It's hard to know how good Greutert is as a filmmaker: he's responsible for both the best (Saw VI) and worst (Saw 3D) outputs in the Saw series, and Jackals demonstrates some skill but ultimately feels more like an exercise than real attempt at tension. I'm rooting for him to show us more.

High Points
It would be easy for the family at the heart of Jackals to turn into a screaming mess of dysfunction, so credit goes to the cast and Jared Rivet's script for making each Powell their own person with clearly defined feelings on the Justin situation. I wish there was more of it! 

Low Points
There's a predictable line five minutes in about how the cabin gets no reception. This is obviously a requirement for a movie like this, though in this case, the characters are referring to the antenna on the television set. It wasn't until I started looking up information on Jackals that I realized it was set in 1983. 

Why is this a low point, you ask? It's twofold: 1) the fact that nothing in the film in any way indicates it's taking place 40 years ago is telling to the style and production design, and 2) it has a subtle suggestion that the Satanic Panic was justified, which just feels offensive at this point in time. Do better, incredibly quickly made horror film no one's ever heard of.

Lessons Learned
Maybe you're crazy, or maybe you're just a mom

Guns are powerful, but have you ever tried just heating up a bottle of vegetable oil?

Masks might limit your human hunting visibility, but if you have them made from the right material, they also just might protect you from hot bottles of vegetable oil

I can't really recommend Jackals. It's, well, not that good. But it's better than any less-than-3-week movie should be, and has enough good performances to hold things together. Find it on Peacock, which somehow makes perfect sense. 


  1. When I first read "Stephen Dorff," I got mixed up and thought it was Brad Dourif, and was wondering why you were being so casual and not totally jacked up about him and his always perfect maniac performances. Then I realized Stephen Dorff is in fact NOT Brad Dourif! Lol. Too bad, I feel like just about any horror film could benefit from his addition.

    1. You know me well! I can't remember if I've ever shared one of the more embarrassing moments of my recent life, one that naturally involved Brad Dourif. At a horror convention, my husband and I signed up for one of those quick 45 second photo ops with a bunch of actors from the Child's Play franchise. I was obviously most excited to be in close proximity to Brad, but when we walked into the space, I became completely tongue-tied and spattered out SOME form of words. I think I was trying to say, "thank you for giving me the best nightmares of my life for over 30 years," but I think it came out like "thagmareslife30". Brad Dourif nodded ad moved into place, and the lovely Fiona, in pure Make-a-Wish voice, looked down at me kindly and said, "Hi, my name's Fiona." My husband could barely hold in his laughter as afterwards we acknowledged Fiona Dourif clearly thought I was...not an intellectual giant.

      So yes, Brad D_F > Steve D_F any day!