×

Film Review: ‘Head Count’

Collegiate types mess with a mind-bending malevolent spirit in Elle Callahan's clever supernatural thriller.

Director:
Elle Callahan
With:
Isaac W. Jay, Ashleigh Morghan, Bevin Bru, Billy Meade, Hunter Peterson, Chelcie May, Tory Freeth, Michael Herman, Amaka Obiechie, Sam Marra, Cooper Rowe.
Release Date:
Jun 14, 2019

Running time: 90 MIN.

Official Site: http://www.samuelgoldwynfilms.com/head-count/

While most horror movies settle for the usual slasher thrills, recent indie breakouts like “It Follows” and “Hereditary” have reminded that there are few things more pleasurably creepy than outré psychological horror in a credibly ordinary setting. Elle Callahan’s directorial debut feature “Head Count” is another intriguing mindbender in which 10 collegiate types find themselves under insidious assault by a vicious mythological entity. Samuel Goldwyn is releasing it to a sole hardtop — L.A.’s Arena Cinelounge — this Friday, which seems unfair, given the amount of pedestrian genre fodder that gets a better shake week after week. It will no doubt find its real audience in simultaneous home-format release.

Evan (Isaac W. Jay) is a college student spending his break visiting older brother Peyton (Cooper Rowe), a reclusive New Agey type living in a trailer near Joshua Tree National Park. It’s an awkward sibling relationship whose weekend bonding is interrupted when Evan accepts an offer to get stoned with a group of young vacationers including the very attractive Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan), with whom he strikes sparks. Straight-edge Peyton reluctantly lets his little brother pursue this lucky break to the other party’s rental house, where tequila shots and campfire ghost stories ensue.

When it’s Evan’s turn to provide one such spooky tale, he reads a cryptic poem found on a website about the “Hisji,” a mythological “vengeful thing.” No one is impressed. But at the 20-minute mark, just when he and Zoe are getting frisky in the hot tub, they get their first sign that the Hisji may, indeed be a thing. And like “The Thing,” it proves a shape-shifting malevolent entity that methodically invades everyone here — although there are no tentacles or inside-out bodies here.

“Head Count” is a trickster film in which reality becomes increasingly debatable. Callahan has a real knack for creating an unsettled atmosphere — it’s already there in the movie’s very first shot, long before anything “happens” — and Michael Nader’s screenplay is very sharp about keeping its cards close to the vest. It’s not until just past the halfway point that the protagonists realize they may be experiencing … impersonators, of themselves, a discovery that naturally induces much paranoia, disbelief and eventual escalating violence.

This is all a lot more interesting than some guy in a mask running around with a kitchen knife. Though not at all comedic like the “Happy Death Day” films, “Head Count” similarly plays with narrative perception in clever ways. It’s an admirably disciplined film with committed performances by actors playing characters more complicated than the usual horror casualty list. (Bevin Bru is especially good as Camille, who at first appears to be a frivolous party girl, but turns out to be the steadiest rock here.) Still, fans of more conventional horror may be disappointed — there’s not a lot of standard bloody payoff here, and the fade-out may be a little too subtle for its own good.

Among the generally astute tech and design contributions, a special shout-out goes to Hannah Parrott, whose original score suggests a spectral presence from the get-go.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Head Count'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, June 11, 2019. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: A Samuel Goldwyn Films release of a Godmother Industries production. Producers: Sam Sandweiss, Brandon Somberhalder. Executive producers: Hunter Peterson, Haoliang Harvey Zhang, Elle Callahan, Eric B. Fleischman, Lauri Apelian. Co-producer: Nicholas Ruff.

Crew: Director: Elle Callahan. Screenplay: Michael Nader, based on a story by Callahan and Nader. Camera (color, widescreen): Sean Bagley. Editor: Nick Wright. Music: Hannah Parrott.

With: Isaac W. Jay, Ashleigh Morghan, Bevin Bru, Billy Meade, Hunter Peterson, Chelcie May, Tory Freeth, Michael Herman, Amaka Obiechie, Sam Marra, Cooper Rowe.

More Film

  • WGA Agents Packaging Fight Placeholder

    Writers Guild Withdraws State Suit Against Agencies, Refiles in Federal Court

    The Writers Guild of America has withdrawn its state court suit against WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners alleging packaging fees are illegal and re-filed suit in federal court. The WGA also responded to antitrust claims brought against the guild by the three agencies. Those agency suits alleged that the WGA abused its power in [...]

  • Tim Roth to Receive Honorary Heart

    Tim Roth to Receive Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award

    British actor Tim Roth is to receive the Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award in recognition of his “exceptional contribution to the art of film.” The ceremony at the Sarajevo Film Festival will be held on Tuesday. He will hold a masterclass on the same day. His first screen role was the lead in the controversial [...]

  • Isabelle Huppert, receives the Honorary Heart

    Isabelle Huppert on Fateful Encounters, the Nature of Acting and Judging a Good Script

    Celebrated actress Isabelle Huppert, speaking at the Sarajevo Film Festival on Sunday, looked back on her illustrious career in a candid discussion that touched on her acting, the many renowned directors with whom she’s worked, and the importance of dialogue. The festival honored Huppert with its Honorary Heart of Sarajevo award “in recognition of her [...]

  • Inauguracion SANFIC 2019

    15th Sanfic Touts Attendance Rise, Hosts Gael Garcia Bernal, Wagner Moura

    Chile’s Santiago International Film Festival (Sanfic) launched its 15th edition Sunday Aug. 18 with three of Latin America’s best-known actors, Gael Garcia Bernal, Wagner Moura (“Narcos”) and Graciela Borges (“La Cienaga”), to which it bestowed career recognition awards. “It’s been 15 years in which we have presented more than 1,400 films,” noted Francisca Saieh, director [...]

  • Sarajevo, Intl. Casting Directors Network Look

    Sarajevo Film Festival and International Casting Directors Network Look to Launch Local Stars

    The Intl. Casting Directors Network (ICDN) and the Sarajevo Film Festival are joining forces to turn the popular Bosnian film fest into a springboard for regional actors looking to launch international careers. After kicking off with a pilot version last year, the initiative expanded to include a series of masterclasses with leading casting directors and [...]

  • Kristen Stewart Underwater

    Watch Kristen Stewart Fight Sea Monsters in 'Underwater' Trailer

    Vampires, ghosts and now sea monsters? Clearly there is no monster actress Kristen Stewart cannot tame. In the first trailer for the submerged thriller “Underwater,” Stewart is a member of a stranded submarine crew. The trailer begins with the radio message: “You are now 5,000 miles from land and you are descending seven miles to [...]

  • Romanian Director Catalin Mitulescu on Sarajevo

    Romanian Director Catalin Mitulescu on Sarajevo Competition Film ‘Heidi’

    A leading figure of the Romanian New Wave, Cătălin Mitulescu has had a heralded career since winning the Palme d’Or for his 2004 short film “Traffic.” His first two features, “The Way I Spent the End of the World” (2006) and “Loverboy” (2011), both premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar. He also co-produced and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content