Home invasion movies, possibly one of the lesser known horror sub-genres, follow a fairly simple setup: take an average family, possibly with some resentment or tension waiting to be brought out by a stressful situation, place them inside their home, and have them be beset upon or taken hostage by crazies of some variety. In a way, it cuts to the heart of what a lot of horror is about: taking the things we thought were safe or sacred — our ideals, our bodies, our homes — and revealing this to not be the case. Horror, at the very core of it, is about violation, about taking our preconceived notions of how the world works then violently tearing them down. Jackals, released today by Scream Factory, is the latest entry in the home invasion genre, following a fairly basic setup along a path horror fans will be quite familiar with. This isn’t a bad thing by itself, but several shortcomings keep it from being the strong entry in the genre that it sets out to be.
The film begins with a sequence ripped from Halloween, a POV stalk through a darkened house as an unseen killer murders those inside, complete with shocked moments of recognition as the victims recognize their killer. From there we cut to a family’s mission to retrieve their wayward son Justin after he falls in with a bizarre cult. Kidnapping him from his new family with the help of an ex-Marine, the family is unable to help their now brainwashed son before his new family, a clan of masked-wearing crazies, descend upon the house.
The setup is admitted clever. Combine cult movies with home invasion, and the horror of seeing a family member transformed into something unrecognizable from the person you loved. Unfortunately, while Jackals has a lot of clever ideas to its name, the execution is where the film often falls short, with flat, depressingly digital visuals, and formal elements that — while perfectly fine — rarely capture any really interesting or arresting imagery. There are some decent shots, but overall there’s something extremely plain and unrefined about the visuals. It looks, to be frank, like every other low-budget horror movie from the last decade or so. Perhaps Jackals could have had a more distinct set of visuals had it leaned more heavily into the fact that it’s actually an 80s period piece, a detail that exists solely to explain why nobody has a cell phone.
The performances show flashes of brilliance, but are otherwise fairly flat. Like the formal elements, they’re usually bland and undeveloped, lacking a critical texture or nuance. You won’t find yourself rooting for any of the characters, and the long-gestating tension that inevitably comes to the surface in this dire situation only results in some mildly interesting moments.
Then there’s what happens when you start to dig for any kind of original subtext, some interesting ideological nugget waiting in the soil beneath the surface — sadly, it doesn’t seem like there is one. Besides the usual home invasion themes like the assault on the sanctity of the family unit, Jackals doesn’t seem to be saying much. Of course, there’s room for horror movies that exist solely at a surface level, reveling in unexamined genre formula, but Jackals doesn’t have the stylistic chops to be much of an entry in this category.
While Jackals is ultimately a fine, competently put-together film, its lack of anything striking or interesting from a stylistic or formal point of view, combined with a script that paints mostly within the lines of home invasion tropes, keeps it from being memorable.
Shout! Factory Bonus Features
Shout Factory’s DVD and Blu-Ray release of Jackals, released on October 3, 2017, contains a decent number of bonus features, but nothing above standard. The audio commentary track features director Kevin Greutert and writer Jared Rivet, and the disc contains further interviews with the pair as well as members of the cast. The original theatrical trailer rounds out the bonus features selection.