Elle Callahan’s Head Count combines two of the most exciting and long overdue trends in horror: Female Filmmakers, and Creature Features. Horror is widening it’s perspective and with a theatrical run that has included Godzilla, A Quiet Place, and the upcoming Crawl, monster movies are in right now While this is Callahan’s directorial debut, she has a ton of experience in editing and production on films such as Wonder Woman and Krampus, and she puts her skills to good use in bringing us another great entry in the monster movie movement. Monsters, survival horror, shapeshifters, summoning mythical beasts and so much more, Head Count has it all.
Stressed out college student Evan decides to escape to the beauty and wilderness of Joshua Tree with his care-free brother Peyton. Once he gets there, everything falls into place for a perfect getaway. Evan even hits it off with another group, and with permission to let loose from Peyton, sets out for the party of a lifetime. The house is gorgeous, the people are friendly, and the weed is blazing. There’s even a pool and hot tub!
As the night evolves, they decide to get a fire going and tell spooky tales. When it’s Evan’s turn he reads to the group a myth about a creature called Hisji. They drink, they tell tales and then they move on. Evan and Zoe decide to break off and do their own thing and Evan is in heaven when the two start making out. Their good times don’t last long, however, as it becomes more and more clear something sinister is out there. It’s just not normal to see two versions of your friends walking around, I don’t care how much marijuana you’ve smoked.
Who is this double? What is going on? Can their friend be playing a trick or is there actually a shapeshifter among them? The group isn’t sure what’s going on at first- they just know it’s unnatural. Soon, though, they realize both that this Hisji thing is real and it is indeed a shapeshifter that could well be inhabiting any of them.
We’re told from an early age, there is no one else like us. There is comfort in that and it is one of those pillars of a healthy sense of reality. We also tend to think not only that we are the only version of ourselves out there, but that we have control of ourselves. So, imagine seeing another ‘you’ walking around that you have absolutely no control of it. That thought alone creates a sense of terror and tension. It removes one of those pillars of reality, risking a crumbling of all those mental and psychological safeguards we put in place. Head Count expertly harnesses this tense, paranoid emotion as one member of the group after another meets their demise, relying heavily on paranoia and suggestion rather than full-on monsters and gore.
Head Count also effectively blends subgenres. It’s a tense thriller, a creature feature, and a possession movie with a slasher aesthetic. It takes a survival horror and mashes it with a paranoid psychological drama. Callahan does this seamlessly by keeping the theme of self and the loss of control of one’s self front and center, dipping far enough into the tropes of various subgenres to serve as signposts without being cliché or distracting. Director Elle Callahan’s direction, mixed with the very natural, taught script from Michael Nader make this movie a clinic on how to do much with little! Production designer Anthony Ruff (Searching) created grounded realistic visuals. Duo Josh and Sierra Russell (Southbound) also created wonderful practical effects. The long list of talent involved in this picture is marvelous.
In the end, Head Count is a very well made and well-acted monster flick about identity and paranoia that grabs you early on and won’t let go. Find it at a theater near you or soon on VOD. Let us know what you think of the film on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!