We’ve seen so many horror movies where the central focus is on a group of people in their 20s who go out in the middle of nowhere and are then stalked by a bunch of murderous psychopaths. While the story of Head Count may seem familiar to some fans of the horror genre, Head Count is an enjoyable and promising, if not entirely successful, feature debut, from director Elle Callahan.
Evan (Isaac W. Jay) is spending time with his older brother Peyton (Cooper Rowe). Evan is a college student who likes to party, Peyton is a straight edge type into crystals and living in a trailer in the desert. So when they come across a group of other students on a hike and Evan hits it off with a girl named Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan), he’s more than happy to ditch his brother for some new friends.
Things take a sinister turn however when a drunken game of reading random stories off of a Creepypasta type website manages to summon a Hisji, a shape shifting demon whose power revolves around the number five.
Head Count, certainly has a lot going for it, particularly the specific characterizations of the characters and even the relationships between them. The awkwardness between Evan and Zoe is much more realistic than the usual meet cute/ instantly bond scenario typically seen in films like this. The group’s response to Evan is equally realistic, especially once things start getting weird.
The film also makes great use of its limited budget, good use of its limited interior locations, and nice choices for the exteriors it uses. One complaint is that the money spent on eventually showing so much of the Hisji, which it isn’t particularly scary, should have gone into better death scenes. The film does have a PG-13/Blumhouse feel to it, so they may have wanted to keep the gore factor down.
Head Count is most effective when it wields the unknown and uses subtlety in plot and set pieces. The brilliance of a lot of horror movies is the less you see, the more scary things become. While that definitely seemed to be the direction that was heading in, showing the creature in its full capacity ruins the magic and the mystery and even the horror of all the events and the devastation that the character were faced with.
Head Count is a solid and and genuinely scary horror film that is light on gore, but not light on thrills. An existential slasher killer stalking and unleashing horror on a crew of friends plus a new guy inadvertently makes for a risk-taking and adventurous entry into the horror genre that can definitely be recommended. That said, there’re some seriously fun technical skills at play in Head Count that make me sure Callahan is going to go on to film something really fun and really scary in the near future. She has the storytelling skills, she just needs a stronger script. It’s a film that gets all the way around the hump of basic chills, but needs a more forceful personality to push it over the edge of being great, and further into the realm of being bold.
In theaters, on VOD, and digital June 14th 2019.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.