I enjoyed The Toll enough to go back and watch writer/director Michael Nader’s previous work, Head Count (this time, screenplay only). This is a film very much in the school of The Toll – wayward demon and all – albeit shaky in its execution.
Evan (Isaac Jay) is visiting his brother Peyton (Cooper Rowe) in the Joshua Tree desert. While out hiking, the two run into a group of college students, one of whom Evan quickly grows enamored with. Max heads home while Evan decides to head to the kids’ cabin. Booze is imbibed, drugs are taken, and scary stories are told as these things are wont to go. In an attempt to impress the group, Evan pulls out an incantation he has found on a website, one that supposedly summons a demon.
Strange things start to happen. People in one room suddenly appear in another, and the kids start injuring themselves in strange ways at strange times. Turns out this particular demon does not like five people in the vicinity of each other at any time.
Head Count goes down easily; it’s a brisk watch that stays entertaining throughout. Even Evan’s burgeoning relationship with Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan) has a titch of realism to it, with both actors putting in fine performances. The rest of the cast is… consistent. As often is the case with these types of movies, most of the characters are one-note stereotypes – the flirt, the jealous ex-boyfriend, etc. – which I don’t necessarily mind in a simple story like this. It’s apparent from the start that the majority are redshirts.
Harder to forgive is the many lapses in logic, the major one being the incantation. If you can find a summoning on a publicly available website, wouldn’t people call the demon repeatedly every day? And seeing the site is a database of incantations, I would assume all kinds of hauntings and possessions would be taking place all over the world at all times. A less lazy conceit would have gone some way to ground the film.
Too, I’m not sure about the demon’s math skills, and the rule of five seems more like a guideline than anything. Sometimes six seems to be the magic number, other times more, and the radius they need to be within varies a lot.
This all leads to an ending that is interesting in its own right, but that also seems to play contrary to the already flimsy rules. It would be an exaggeration to call Head Count a solid piece of film-making.
Yet, there are a few good jump scares, and the main characters are likable enough. The sound design, courtesy of director Elle Callahan, is excellent, too, and easily the eeriest part of the movie. Imagine something from the school of David Lynch, and you get a good idea of what to expect.
It’s rough around the edges, Head Count, but still a brisk and entertaining little horror film. Recommended for those who enjoy a demon conjuring yarn.
Letterboxd summary: During a weekend getaway to Joshua Tree, a group of teenagers find themselves under mental and physical assault from a supernatural entity that mimics their appearances as it completes an ancient ritual.
Ratings from around the web
|One Star Classics||3/6|