2017 | Unrated (R equivalent) | starring Stephen Dorff, Deborah Kara Unger | directed by Kevin Greutert | 1hr 25mins |
Jackals is a disposable, forgettable hour and a half piece of trash horror film from junior splat pack adjacent member Kevin Greutert, who in fairness made my favorite Saw sequel (VI) and cranked out low budget, low concept bores ever since (Jesabelle, Visions). The deceptive bait-and-switch here is that the premise is a novel one. Greutert backs into a home invasion horror movie with a cult film; And I do like a good cult movie.
The film opens with a Peeping Tom-esque first person stalk through a house punctuated by a pair of brutal murders. Then the story starts with Stephen Dorff as a military veteran hired by a wealthy family to kidnap their son from a cult, return him to their cabin in the woods (naturally, a mile from anywhere) and attempt to deprogram him with the help of his parents, angry brother, girlfriend and their infant child. The movie has barely touched on Holy Smoke/Faults cult deprogramming territory before the cult shows up in black rabbit and executioner masks and surrounds the house. The cult members have studied up on a lot of horror movies and know that all they need to do is stand in the yard, next to a swing set, in masks, backlit with car headlights and refuse to say a word in order to get what they want.
It’s obnoxious right from the start. Jackals’ characters are in that zone a step down from the teenagers that follow the sound into the dark room – they’re completely inactive, left to simply sob, scream at each other and yell “what do you want?” at the silent assailants. Nobody in the movie negotiates, forms plans to get out of this or acts like anything other than lambs lined up for a slaughter that becomes increasingly justified by their own idiotic actions.
This all matters because the reason horror movies can still work, even if their characters are cliché or paper thin, is because this particular genre triggers an interactive response in the audience where we put ourselves in their situation and see if we could work our way out of it. If the characters are too dumb, too inactive, that tether gets broken. All is lost when we can no longer even relate to someone in a life and death situation, which is exactly what happens halfway through Jackals. It becomes so tedious that if the rest of the movie were just a series of scenes where the family was slaughtered one by one in the dark, I would not have cared less.
For some reason I assume Greutert knows better than this, the movie feels less like a work of incompetence and more sheer unadulterated laziness. The kills lack any invention – throats slit, hands on fire and chokings. Greutert doesn’t even try to work the visual medium’s knobs and levers to create tension and, despite a lot of screaming, the blood runs pretty conservatively given the movie wasn’t even released with a rating. Waiting for a classic slasher movie last second twist or nasty kill? Nope – the ending is a straight slap in the face. There isn’t even any B-movie cheese to it.
Jackals takes an interesting twist on the home invasion movie and just drops it on the floor and leaves it to rot. It isn’t fun, it isn’t sobering, it isn’t an homage, it isn’t a gore-hound movie. It’s an ugly thing that seems to hate horror and hate its audience.