With the exception of fresh, trope-smashing horror films like You’re Next, recent home invasion flicks tend to settle for similarity rather than striving for originality and uniqueness. Though it boasts a compelling premise, Jackals unfortunately follows the same narrative beats as many films before it.
Directed by Kevin Greutert from a script by Jared Rivet, Jackals stars Stephen Dorff as Jimmy LeVine, a cult deprogrammer who has been hired by a family to retrieve their teenage son from a murderous cult and help return him to a normal mental state. Tying the son down in an upstairs bedroom and attempting to talk him out of his viciousness and cold demeanor, Jimmy and the family are cast into a nightmarish scenario when the cult shows up to take him back.
The cult aspect of the film remains interesting throughout, but Jackals doesn’t capitalize on this premise- instead relying on over-the-top family drama and familiar tropes to guide its story. The film is at its best when the cult mentality is being explored in the scenes of dialogue between Dorff and Ben Sullivan, who plays Justin, the son, and in the dark moments of conversation and violence between Justin and his family. The performances of Dorff and Sullivan, in fact, are the only strong ones that the film has to offer, and Jackals suffers when they aren’t on the screen.
Typically, I’m all for drama in a horror film. I’m a sucker for character-driven turmoil when properly handled. Though it aims to be a compelling family drama, Jackals falters in its script, which features laughable, Lifetime channel dialogue, and weak dramatic performances that cause the film to feel more like a daytime soap opera. While focusing on the less-interesting family dynamic, the filmmakers sacrifice the background and motivations of the cult- which, unfortunately, never allows these villains to transcend their one note and become something truly scary.
Flaws intact, Jackals continued to feature moments of slight tension that held my interest in the film. However, when the final act presents viewers with a sudden change of character, which it immediately undoes, and leaves us with a disappointing, abrupt ending, it’s forgivable to feel as though those few tense moments aren’t worth investing in. While the minimal offerings will be enough for some viewers, those in search of loftier ambitions are better off skipping this one.