Home invasion movies can be either one of two things, extraordinarily boring or downright terrifying, They’re not easy to pull off. In less capable hands, “looming danger” can just mean a bunch of characters looking around at nothing. All that then usually comes to a head in the last 15 minutes of the movie where all the action takes place. Sometimes though, in the case of such movies as You’re Next, they can grab you by the throat and not let go until the final credits.
Luckily, we’re in good hands with director Kevin Greutert. See, Greutert was not only the director on one of the best Saw sequels, Saw VI, but he was also the editor of The Strangers. He knows how to handle the suspense. While the movie doesn’t reach the heights of movies like You’re Next or The Strangers, Jackals ends up being a swift punch to the gut for horror fans. It doesn’t bring much new to the table in the home invasion subgenre, but you can’t take your eyes of the screen for the duration of the film’s just above 80 minute run time.
We are introduced to Justin, one of the pillars of a cult of jackal mask wearing creeps, in a creepy and extended opening scene reminiscent of Halloween. After a ritualistic murder he is taken in for an intervention where a cult deprogrammer hopes, with the help of Justin’s family, bring him back from the grips of this malevolent cult. All doesn’t go according to plan when members of the cult show up and surround the house resulting in a night of terror.
I really like the set-up for this movie. I was immediately invested as soon as the plot kicked in. The filmmakers waste no time developing our family and the savage family awaiting them outside. The brisk pace and the aforementioned short runtime really work in this movie’s favor. The tension is ramped up and doesn’t let you go until it’s over.
Top to bottom, Jackals features some great performances as well. Stephen Dorff once again brings it as the tough as nails cult deprogrammer. This dude is seriously a badass. Plus, I don’t think he can ever give a bad performance. I’m happy to see him making a return to his horror roots this year. Also outstanding in the film is Johnathon Schaech, who play’s Justin’s loving and tortured father. He really brings the heart to this movie, and you really feel the pain he’s going through losing his son to this cult of Jackals. Finally, Ben Sullivan is great as Justin because I hated him with an almost violent furor. He is able to play this role with almost zero humanity and it makes the character downright wretched.
The cinematography in this film is absolutely top notch. Its no wonder this movie did so well on the festival circuit because this movie is modeled to look like a straight up John Carpenter movie. Did I mention the film takes place in the 1980s? The camera work on display really captures the hopelessness of a family trapped out in the woods with no modern technology. The beautiful 2:35:1 aspect ratio really captures the secluded setting nicely. The first scene/shot of the movie is a direct call back to Halloween with a masked killer walking through a house at night before killing his victim. It totally works, and despite being an obvious nod, never feels like fan service.
Not everything works perfectly here, though. The character of Samantha in the film, who is Justin’s girlfriend and mother of his child, makes some terrible and downright annoying decisions in the film that almost threw me right out of it. I’m really not ever one of those people that let’s bad decision making by the characters dictate my judgement on the film, but some of Sam’s decisions are too much of stretch in logic for me to let go of. Also, even though the movie does a great job with pacing, it ends too abruptly. You stocked up on runtime, let it breath a little at the end. I would have still felt just as tense if you gave me a couple beats to work with.
Overall, Jackals is a cool little home invasion thriller that brings enough unique terror to the proceedings that even if you’re burnt out with the genre, you’ll find something to like here. There’s some shocking deaths and some great gore effects that will keep the rabid fans happy. Visually, the film doesn’t break new ground, modeling the look after Carpenter, but you can do a lot worse than copying the master. Definitely would recommend for your Halloween viewings this month. It’s not perfect, but you’re sure to be affixed to the screen the whole time.
Jackals is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD, and On Demand from Shout! Factory and Scream Factory.