Head Count (2019)

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A group of vacationers are in for a rude awakening in this thriller from filmmaker Elle Callahan.

Taking a break from college, Evan is heading to visit his brother Peyton, who has been more than a brother to Evan since their parents passed away. Evan is undeterred by Peyton’s ways of living life through nature. While on a hike, the duo come across a group of vacationers that include Camille, Nico, Haley, Vanessa, Bryan, Max, Sam, Tori, and Zoe. Evan becomes attracted to Zoe and Peyton urges Evan to stay with the group for the night.

During the night, the group partakes in drinking and party games. When they decide to tell campfire tales, Evan is coerced to join the group and tell a story. Despite being offered a recommended website, Evan instead decides to read a story apparently about a creature called the Hisji. Soon enough, that night, during a dip in the hot tub, Evan and Zoe felt a presence watching them. The next day, while on a hike, Zoe is injured in an apparent fall but has no recollection. Soon enough, more strange occurrences begin to happen. Evan suddenly discovers something menacing has emerged and he may be responsible for it. Will he be able to find a way to end the chaos that has plagued this vacation?

Making her feature film directorial debut, Elle Callahan has come up with an interesting take on the creature genre and brings along an eclectic cast of characters in this tale of a vacation that is about to go awry. Along with screenwriting partner Michael Nader, Callahan crafts the film as more of a mystery but adds those horror-like overtones, especially in the second half, that all comes in a shocking climax that more or less will remind one of films such as Blair Witch Project and those kinds of films but adds a bit of something else in the mix.

The cast of characters is quite eclectic, and it is those different personalities that make this film work. Isaac Jay’s character of Evan, the newcomer to the group, has this nervousness as he feels like an outcast even when it comes to his relationship with his brother Peyton, played by Conner Rowe. Ashleigh Morghan’s Zoe is an aspiring photographer who like Ethan is pretty much an outsider. Nico, played by Hunter Peterson, is the token dude of the film while Bevin Bru’s Camille tends to be the life of the party amongst the others. The only character that tends to have this annoyance is Billy Meade’s Max, the self-proclaimed “leader” of the group who always has to let his skepticism and ego get in the way.

While the first act doesn’t have any scares as excepted, the smooth pacing is quite well done because in the second act, or second day of the trip if you will, that’s where things start to get a little freaky. In one very disturbing scene, a game gets really weird when Sam is called to do things when the lights go out and Sam is revealed to have been in the other room. The creature of the film, the Hisji, is a creation of Callahan’s and it is revealed to be a shapeshifter of sorts, but the mystery involves its true form. There are no signs of it for most of the movie and that’s a good thing as it brings a sense of mystery behind it.

Head Count is a pretty good feature debut for Elle Callahan. She knows her stuff and brings an eclectic cast of characters coming face to face with something they never expected. The tension slowly builds to a “grab you by your throat” finale that melds the predictable with the unpredictable.

WFG RATING: B

Samuel Goldwyn Films presents a Godmother Industries production. Director: Elle Callahan. Producers: Samuel Sandweiss and Brandon Somerhalder. Writers: Elle Callahan and Michael Nader. Cinematography: Sean Bagley. Editing: Nick Garnham Wright.

Cast: Isaac W. Jay, Ashleigh Morghan, Bevin Bru, Billy Meade, Tory Freeth, Michael Herman, Sam Marra, Chelcie May, Amaka Obichie, Hunter Peterson, Cooper Rowe, Riley Scott.

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