Head Count is a new horror film co-written and directed by Elle Callahan. It follows a group of teenagers who accidentally summon a supernatural presence that mimics their appearances in an attempt to destroy them from within while reading scary stories on a trip to the Joshua Tree desert.
This movie’s premise is wildly intriguing, hence why it is such a disappointment that the film turned out to be little more than a run-of-the-mill B-horror movie. The concept of the monster in the movie is really interesting, but not enough was done with the mythology to make you want to revisit it in a franchise form. The film should have explored the creature more naturally over time rather than delivering most of the material via a single exposition dump.
Additionally, the story doesn’t take full advantage of the premise. There are so many directions in which this movie could have gone that would have been far more interesting than what we got. For example, a whodunit-style mystery playing off of the paranoia of the characters would have been really cool to watch, but instead, the film devolves into a straightforward and simple slasher movie.
The characters aren’t much more developed than the story. Each and every one of the characters is flat and archetypal, with very little reason to sympathize with them. Perhaps the issue is that the film isn’t long enough for us to spend sufficient time with them to see past the surface-level traits they were given. Or maybe this was purposeful to show how society is becoming more and more archetypal. Regardless, the movie lacks clarity and suffers as a result.
In terms of pacing, the film was very frustrating. The beginning of the movie, as we are being introduced into the world, is rather fascinating. However, once the film gets past the introduction and you realize that it won’t be going anywhere substantial with its premise, it starts to feel very slow and almost boring. Then, the big finale feels very rushed, and the movie is over. The movie really needed to have more sustained tension to work.
The actors don’t do a bad job with their characters, inhabiting the annoying archetypes which they were given rather well, but it’s hard to single out any individual performer because the film as a whole is so bland. That said, the two leads of the movie, Isaac Jay and Ashleigh Morgan, do have an admirable level of chemistry, so it would be nice to see the two of them together again in something more interesting.
The film was also mostly admirable on a technical level, although it isn’t anything special. Having a horror movie set in a desert is a welcome idea, and for the most part, it works very well. There is some great cinematography that takes advantage of the scenery of the desert in which it was shot. Additionally, when the film does eventually get gnarly, it is shot in a way that is minimalistic, but effective.
Overall, Head Count wasn’t quite what you may be hoping for. Even though the premise sounds very good on paper, it is never explored in a way that results to much more than an aggressively bland B-movie.
Head Count hits theaters and VOD on June 14.