Starring: Stephen Dorff,Deborah Kara Unger, Johnathon Schaech, Deborah Kara Unger, Johnathon Schaech, Ben Sullivan. USA. 1h 25m
This unusual horror, loosely based on retro accounts of cults programming teens starts out well, an point of view break in results in the brutal stabbing of a couple in their bed, the culprit catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he’s wearing a mask and heads into the next bedroom, the young girl there recognises him, it seems he’s her brother, she’s concerned about the blood on his hands and runs to raise her parents, the culprit pulls down his mask and returns to the crime scene where he strangles her.
The rest of move, set in the early 80’s takes a dramatically different look and feel, a couple of guys are driving down the highway when a wheel gives out, while investigating they are overpowered by two men in balaclavas and one is bundled into the van. A sombre story soon emerges, a family have recruited an ex Marine, Jimmy (Dorff) to reprogramme their son, Justin who has joined this cult known as the Jackals. Justin’s seperated parents, feisty brother and ex girlfriend and mother of his child are all there to aid in his progression from deranged cult member to decent son, each blaming their actions for his withdrawal from the family, but none of them fully aware of what this fateful night holds for them. At their secluded cabin in the woods.
Drawing together elements from any modern home invasion especially the Purge (2013) and Straw Dogs (1971) this film is littered with cliches but it’s a daring attempt to deal with a difficult subject, and these types of stories seemed to have died in the 80’s so this might be the first of a revival. Stephen Dorff was a bizarre choice for a marine with the understanding of combat and reprogramming, but his small role adds a bit to what turns out to be a tried and tested story. Once they restrain Justin and start the reprogramming they hear some distant howls which is answers, and soon they realise they are surrounded by masked figures who are violent and want Justin to return to them, the instantly arm up with what they can and stand their ground..
Despite all the hard work that happens early on it becomes inevitable what’s going to happen and after the entire cast spend ages talking among each other they then make ALL of the worst plans possible in a movie. But it’s difficult, what else can you do when scared and trapped in a cabin? It’s pretty clear that their attempts to fight back are futile ,they are massively outnumbered and with justin being an incredible jerk it’s a wonder why the family don’t just hand him back.
At times the family try to reach out and be tender to their son and in each attempt he reacts with violence, claiming his name in Thantos now and the cult are his real family, he even manages to take a huge bite out of his mother’s head while she tries to hug him back to reality!? Because that always works.
There are some hints to supernatural powers and a psychic connection to the group, they seem to be one step ahead at all times but really with a family this silly it’s not all that hard to predict their next move.
The film boils down to some gruesome torture brutal punishment scenes and some will admire the savagery, but as for a distinctive and riveting story, even the twist at the end is expected.
Related: The Purge (2013), Straw Dogs (1971)
Lists: Home Invasion films
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Spotlight: Stephen Dorff