The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Jackals opens with a scene that seemingly pays homage to Michael Mann's superlative 1986 thriller Manhunter. It's a six-minute unbroken shot from the point of view of a home invader. The unseen figure makes his way through a house carrying only a flashlight. He enters a couple's bedroom, kills them, then makes his way to the room of a teen girl, who wakes up when the light shines in her face. It's a creepy scene, but also one that's indicative of the movie's overall lack of originality.

Deborah Kara Unger and Johnathon Schaech play Kathy and Andrew Powell. As the film opens, a de-programmer named Jimmy Levine (Stephen Dorff) has snatched their grown son Justin from the hands of a cult. They convene at the Powells' remote cabin in the woods, where the entire family including Justin's brother Campbell (Nick Roux) and girlfriend Samantha (Chelsea Ricketts) tries to talk sense into him. Then the cult members, wearing animal masks (because, um, they looked really cool in You're Next?), show up, surround the cabin, and demand that Justin be returned to them.

What follows is absolutely horrific. The cult members torment the family. There are some jump scares as they attempt to break in at moments you don't expect. Scenes of violence, of which there are many, are suitably gruesome. By far, the most effective thing about Jackals is the way director Kevin Greutert (Saw VI) gets across the idea that these sickos aren't messing around. Andrew Russo's atmospheric cinematography adds to the eeriness.

In spite of those good qualities, Jackals makes a critical mistake that's much too common in horror movies: it starts with the second act. The film opens with Justin being rescued by Jimmy. That means we never learn what the cult is really about, how he became involved with it, or how the family came to hire Jimmy. Those are vital things we need to know in order to fully engage with the story. Without them, Jackals is little more than just a series of violent, familiar events strung together, leading up to an ending that's far less emotional than it ought to be.

The cast is quite competent, which makes the lack of genuine substance all the more frustrating. Jackals needed more introduction of its premise to carry the kind of weight it wants to, or at least a way of separating itself from other home invasion thrillers. If all you care about is a quick jolt of nasty violence, the 85-minute movie has you covered. Beyond that, Jackals lacks any sort of context or larger justification for the violence, which robs it of the deeper horror it might have contained.

( out of four)

Jackals is unrated, but contains graphic sequences of violence and strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

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