Head Count Film Review
By: Joseph Perry (Uphill Both Ways Podcast)
Horror thriller Head Count takes tried and true elements seen in such supernatural shockers as The Beast Must Die (1974) and John Carpenter’s version of The Thing (1982) and delivers a fresh, current spin on matters, featuring a talented young cast of newcomers. Director Elle Callahan’s feature film debut eschews such annoying recent terror movie tropes as featuring only shallow, unlikable characters and social media commentary less relatable to viewers outside of the teenage target market, and delivers an engaging chiller.
Evan (Isaac W. Jay) goes to visit his somewhat estranged older brother Peyton (Cooper Rowe) at the latter’s trailer home in the desert during a university break. The two go out for a walk and discover a group of similarly aged people, including Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan), to whom Evan is instantly attracted, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Blowing off his brother for the rest of the day to party with this bunch, Evan is tasked with trying to spook the others by reading a creepypasta entry at night. This being a horror movie, that action means bad things for all involved, as an entity known as a Hisji comes calling to claim their young lives.
The screenplay by Callahan and Michael Nader sets up the Hisji rules slowly, leaving viewers to discover new puzzle pieces as the protagonists do. Some of the factors seem a bit vague or arbitrary, but the set-up is fine for a nail-biter about a group of isolated young people who mistrust certain members of the group. Paranoia and suspicion set in as the Hisji hides in plain sight among the group members.
Callahan’s direction shows a keen sense for building up tension and suspense, delivering a third act that plays beautifully with the now-splintered factions of the group. She is aided by a solid ensemble cast that also includes Bevin Bru, Chelcie May, Billy Meade, Tori Freeth, Hunter Peterson, Amaka Obiechi, Michael Herman, and Sam Marra. Cinematographer Sean Bagley does a wonderful job of capturing both lovely desert landscapes and the fast-paced excitement of the story.
Like many classic fright fare offerings before it, Head Count focuses on developing an eerie atmosphere of mystery and paranoia rather than settling for a mere gore showcase. Callahan and several of her cast prove themselves to be talents to keep an eye on with this winning debut.
Head Count is available in theaters, in digital, and on demand from June 14.
Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/). He also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), and film websites Diabolique Magazine (diaboliquemagazine.com), Gruesome Magazine (gruesomemagazine.com), The Scariest Things (scariesthings.com), Ghastly Grinning (ghastlygrinning.com), and film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope (videoscopemag.com) and Drive-In Asylum (etsy.com/shop/GroovyDoom).
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