Jackals Review

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Saw VI director Kevin Greutert’s lean, mean and rough horror movie Jackals is a dirty little gem

Kevin Greutert is a great director. But not many people know that. You don’t hear many fans debating and discussing the collective works of Kevin Greutert. Yet. But give it time. The veteran editor’s greatest claim to pop cult fame is that he edited the first few Saw sequels and if you’re a fan of those movies, a big part of their impact was due to Greutert’s ace-cutting skills. The Saw films were modestly-budgeted affairs and it was Greutert who perfected their rhythm, using disorienting edits to punish the viewers senses and create that jittery sense of paranoia and panic that those movies are famous for. He even directed Saw VI — which might be the best in the series — and though he also directed the 7th (and, until the upcoming Jigsaw — which Greutert also cut — final film) picture, it was merely a passable flick (though a must in 3D). That’s more because Gruetert sort of phoned it in, cheesed off as he was that he was contractually dragged back to the franchise when all he wanted to do was direct a Paranormal Activity sequel.

Anyway. The man is a talent.

We’re huge fans of his dreamy, Southern Gothic thriller Jessabelle (see it if you haven’t) and we’re also fans of his latest movie, Jackals. The film hits theaters on September 1st from Scream Factory Films and, although story-wise it treads familiar turf, it’s a horror movie worth seeking out, if only to appreciate Greutert’s crackerjack skill in putting talented, underrated actors into a room and employing a single location to create a mini-masterclass in suspense. Imagine Straw Dogs by way of The Strangers and Assault on Precinct 13 and you have an idea of what to expect from the lean, mean Jackals.

Canadian actor Deborah Kara Unger (Crash, Silent Hill) is a mother who, along with her family, hires a rough and tumble dude (Stephen Dorff, Blade and the upcoming Leatherface) to kidnap and de-program their son Justin (Ben Sullivan) who has been assimilated into a murderous cult called The Jackals. The sneering, psychotic and totally indoctrinated teen promises that his “brothers and sisters” will find him and gut the entire family like pigs. And he’s not lying. Suddenly, a cabal of masked fiends descends on the country cabin, circling them, howling, knives and other sharp things extended. As the family — including Justin’s young girlfriend and infant daughter — takes a stand to resist the threat, they start to break down internally and the monsters keep scratching at the doors, demanding they get their “boy” back.

Jackals is simple and slick and tightly wound, with a threadbare narrative that serves as a skeleton to hang an ever-ratcheting wave of tension and bursts of wrenching violence. As the battered mom, Unger is magnificent (she pretty much always is), a woman who believes that the soul of her little boy still lies coiled inside this new monster and, with enough love and understanding, that sweet kid will be restored. As the seething Justin, Sullivan is so hideous it’s often hard to watch him. He’s a shell and since we as viewers are always trying to find the humanity in the villain, it’s mind scrambling to observe. Because there’s simply nothing human left in this kid. Dorff is, as usual, a fine screen presence and, though he’s in the film in a supporting sense, he’s magnetic when he is on screen.

Credit must also go to Andrew Russo’s cinematography, a visual palette that juxtaposes raw, earthy indoor footage with dreamlike, saturated and fog and blue back-lit sequences of The Jackals invasion. There’s a kind of odd, magic realism at play here which is refreshing in a contemporary indie horror film. And Anton Sanko’s score is magnificent. Sanko is a real artist who has been steadily sculpting remarkable music for underrated horror movies; we especially love his work on the lurid Nurse 3D, a movie that desperately needs more love. His sounds bounce up beautifully against Greutert’s typically tight edit (done alongside Jon Coniglio)

You won’t leave Jackals singing a happy tune and I’m not really sure there’s a point to any of it. But hey, there doesn’t NEED to be a point. The style is the key and this little cutthroat (literally) shocker is proof of Greutert’s powers as a filmmaker. Keep watching him…