New Horror Releases: Head Count (2019) - Reviewed

Are you afraid of the wilderness? Written and directed by Elle Callahan, Head Count follows Evan, a young man spending the weekend with his big brother Peyton in Joshua Tree. While hiking through the park, the brothers come across a group of friends who quickly invite them to join their group for the day. Unfortunately, what begins as a fun excursion slowly takes a turn towards the sinister as Evan and his new friends begin to notice some disturbing occurrences at their remote cabin in the desert.

While many other horror films within this subgenre tend to center around some lone psychopath in a mask picking off his prey with a knife or something, Head Count takes thing in a slightly different direction, perhaps more towards the supernatural. While sitting around the campfire that first night, everyone in the gang takes turns telling scary stories, and Evan of all people, ends up telling the story that may or may not have released an evil force into their camp.

This departure from other similar horror films is arguably one of the best aspects Head Count has going for it. There's so much mystery at play as the film continues to get creepier and creepier while simultaneously keeping us in the dark about what is stalking Evan and company. The whole horror trope about fearing the unknown can often feel like a tired cliché at this point, yet on occasion it can still be surprisingly effective, such as is the case with Head Count. Whenever a film is being made on a low budget, the filmmakers are forced to get creative with the tools available to them, and it's clear that Callahan used this to the fullest effect that she could. What's unfortunate however is that there are several instances where a reliance on visual effects ends up looking cheap and disingenuous.

Head Count does suffer from some other faults as well. The weakest aspect of the script has got to be the character development. Several of Evan's new acquaintances feel like cookie cutter twenty something's, existing purely as stereotypical horror film cannon fodder. Perhaps the only real exceptions to this are Zoe and Camille, both of whom do display some semblance of depth. It also doesn't hurt that the actresses playing them are arguably the best in the film. Aside from Evan, they're the only people I remember, except for perhaps one of the guys whose sole purpose in the film is just to be a dick to Evan, but that just ends up feeling too forced.

Overall, Head Count ends up feeling like a bit of a mixed bag, in that the script contains some really interesting ideas, which mostly translate to the screen in an effective way. Of course, there are several signs of a first time director, which resulted in some sequences that featured some awkward blocking and editing. Disorienting scenes like this definitely took me out of the story, but I'd say the good still outweighs the bad in Head Count. Anyone looking for a something a little different and a little creepy should give it a shot. It's worth at least one or two viewings.

-Derek Miranda