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Jackals (2017) Review

Disturbing home invasion film mixed with the occult.

Jackals is a 2017 horror film about an estranged family who hires a cult deprogrammer to take back their teenage son from a murderous cult.

I’ve always been sorta fascinated by the lure of cults, knowing of course that no cult actually calls themselves as such, but the idea that so many can fall victim to the trappings of these organizations has preoccupied me probably to an unhealthy level. I’m certainly not alone of course as the movies have taken to producing all kinds of stories centered around cults, most with disturbing results. Such is the case with Kevin Greutert‘s Jackals, a short but unnerving film that might not be all that original but does deliver some bleak horror.

After an especially harrowing opening that sees the gruesome murder of a young family in their home in the dead of night by a masked intruder, we learn it is the early 1980s, and witness what appears to be a kidnapping on the side of the road when a young man is abducted by two men in ski masks and driven to an isolated cabin in the woods. His name is Justin (Ben Sullivan) and we discover that he’s been taken by his own family who have hired a man named Jimmy Levine (Stephen Dorff) to ‘deprogram’ him from the violent cult he’s become involved with, the same that the man from the start is part of, a group of animal mask-wearing psychopaths looking to run blood. Soon enough though, they track down Justin and surround the house. Time for a showdown.

The first half hour of Jackals is smarter than it looks and sets up a genuinely compelling start, one that feels like it could be an intelligent psychological thriller. Justin is a caged animal, seemingly possessed by a demon as he taunts his family from his binds, who watch in shock at the transformation in him. He promises them they will be gutted like pigs. We get some time with the ‘good guys’ as they work in shifts to try and turn him, all under the guidance of Jimmy, who’s done this before. However, by the time the cultists arrive and take positions out in the shadows, things begin to turn and the movie takes on a more conventional home invasion feel.

Admittedly, the first time the masked figures appear in the low light of the trees around the house, it’s pretty scary stuff, but it quickly fades as the film can’t really find anything interesting to do with them beyond the expected. They howl at each other for good measure, but their presence is entirely lacking of any substance. Sure they are a violent bunch but the film reduces them to an empty menace that does little but build generic tension without much innovation. Much more troublesome is how good Dorff is yet what the filmmakers decide to do with him. It’s a shame.

Jackals attempts a few times to give some further depth to the family (and the family as a unit), giving them plenty of internal conflicts that could be stretched as reason enough for why Justin left in the first place. That family is led by his father Andrew (Johnathon Schaech), along with mother Kathy (Deborah Kara Unger), younger brother Campbell (Nick Roux), and Justin’s ex-girlfriend Samantha (Chelsea Ricketts), who is there with their infant daughter. There’s not a bad performance among them but the movie slips further from credibility the longer it lasts, becoming overwhelmingly oppressive and relentless in its thirst for misery. It’s agonizing to watch and yet built from the ground up to be so. Those who seek out Jackals do so because they know what they want from the genre and surely, it’s not going to disappoint, but be warned, all others will not come away feeling well.

Jackals (2017) Review

Movie description: Jackals is a 2017 horror film about an estranged family who hires a cult deprogrammer to take back their teenage son from a murderous cult.

Director(s): Kevin Greutert

Actor(s): Deborah Kara Unger, Stephen Dorff, Johnathon Schaech

Genre: Horror

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