New on BluyRay from The Shout Factory!
Directed by Kevin Greutert
Written by Jared Rivet
Starring Deborah Kara Unger, Stephen Dorff, Johnathon Schaech, Nick Roux, Chelsea Ricketts, Ben Sullivan, Alex Kingi, Cassie Hernandez, Alex Castillo, Carol Abney, Alyssa Julya Smith, Jason Scott Jenkins,
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The folks behind JACKALS, like all of us, saw THE STRANGERS. Unlike all of us, they made a movie pretty much like THE STRANGERS and called it JACKALS.

The Powell family hires a counselor named Jimmy (e-cigaretteer Stephen Dorff) to nab their lost son Campbell (Nick Roux) who has joined a cult and left his loving family, his girlfriend Samantha (Chelsea Ricketts), and his newborn baby behind. Once bagged and brought back to the secluded Powell home, Jimmy attempts to deprogram Campbell and return him to normalcy, but the process takes time and that is not what the Powell’s have as the cult surrounds the home with the intention of bringing Campbell back into the fold.

It appears with AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s new season comes a whole new wave of films about secret cults. The tribal nature of humans is not a new observation, but it is one that seems to be coming back as a menace in horror cinema these days. And while it is a fun little subgenre to delve into, I don’t know if those behind JACKALS really want to do that. There is not a lot of attempting to understand why Campbell is so aligned with the masked cultists outside of the home or how they converted him in the first place. Everything in the film simply happens in one night as the cultists surround the place and look ominous. They don’t even talk. They just stand in the shadows and kill anyone who tries to leave. Only Campbell seems to be the chatty one, which makes me wonder why the cultists–who seem to be bereft of vocal chords or at least have taken a vow of silence of some sort, would want Chatty Campbell in their ranks? Still, it makes for a semi-compelling scenario, backed up with intense concern from the family of recognizables like Jonathan Schaech and Deborah Kara Unger as the parents trying to bring their son back. Everyone does a good job of being scared and saddened by Campbell’s situation and while the film is definitely a knockoff of THE STRANGERS, it manages to be a bit like THE HILLS HAVE EYES as well with an entire family working together as a unit once an outside threat arrives.

The problem with JACKALS, other than the fact that it is way too much like THE STRANGERS, is that while it makes sense to stay put in the house, everyone seems all for rushing outside for any given reason allowing the Strangers—I mean, the Jackals to murderize them. Seeing one family member after another rush outside one at a time seems ridiculous, but it even gets worse when they see that obviously they are going to be killed once it happens two or three times. In the end, the writers just didn’t come up with a compelling reason for the family to leave the home and that makes the entire latter half of the film kind of ludicrous.

Still, as far as THE STRANGERS-style horror films go, JACKALS have the visuals down. These masked folks outside look ominous enough. There’s even a dancing bunny-masked girl who likes to do slo mo kills, which is fun but ultimately pointless. I liked the idea of converting a cultist back to normalcy and wish they would have dealt with that a little more and tried to fit the whole thing into a mold of another movie less. The performances are ok. The first half is rather intense. But JACKALS kind of falls apart by the end and is too much like other films before it to recommend.