Head Count Image

Head Count

By Alex Saveliev | June 14, 2019

A HISJI is a vengeful thing
Five times its name you never sing
With skin pale white and eyes of green
It’s something you’ve already seen

Director Elle Callahan’s horror debut Head Count opens with this demon-summoning verse, perhaps bringing to mind the likes of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook or Bernard Rose’s Candyman. Yet Callahan seems to have been more inspired by James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence and David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows – meta-trips that deal with mysterious forces beyond our understanding, f*****g with protagonists’ heads (and bodies). While those films were razor-sharp examples of their kind, open to various interpretations, Callahan hasn’t quite achieved her peers’ level of craft. Head Count’s central antagonist – the “vengeful thing with skin pale white and eye of green” – akin to the film’s flimsy plot, is certainly “something you’ve already seen.”

Evan (Isaac Jay) visits his older brother Peyton (Cooper Rowe), who lives off-the-grid in the Joshua Tree desert, meditating in his downtrodden trailer. Since the death of their parents, Peyton’s been a stand-in father figure to Evan. A long history of resentment and unspoken feelings seems to haunt the polar-opposite orphans, yet it’s barely touched upon before they embark on a hike, consequently encountering the film’s central “group of f****d-up strangers”: eight young couples and the single, attractive Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan). Instantly developing chemistry with the latter, Evan abandons his big bro, going back to drink and smoke at the group’s rented cottage.

All the partying eventually leads to campfire ghost stories…This leads to increasingly odd occurrences…”

All the partying eventually leads to campfire ghost stories, wherein Evan stumbles across the Hisji website & verse – which he, of course, says at least five times right off the bat. This leads to increasingly odd occurrences: a figure appears in the dark while Zoe and Evan play hanky-panky in an overheated hot-tub; an engraved symbol is discovered in the shed; and Zoe unwillingly steps off a cliff, twisting her ankle. “It was like I was a passenger in my own body,” she recollects shakily.

Our heroes begin to either duplicate or split in two, running/morphing into versions of themselves. Despite Peyton’s pleas to return home, Evan stays with his new friends, only to discover that he’s summoned “a shifting creature” that “hides in plain sight” and whose “power comes from five,” enacting “a suicidal curse.” It also likes to scramble laptop screens, apparently. The ending, with its poor SFX and purposeful ambiguity, is more likely to induce laughter than shivers.

Head Count takes a while to get going, and once it does, it doesn’t really go anywhere intriguing. One of the main issues is the lack of true characterization. They’re all archetypes: the a*****e Max (Billy Meade), the loud party-girl Camille (Bevin Bru), the nerdy Sam (Michael Herman), the druggie Nico (Hunter Petersen)… The actors all do a decent job living up to those stereotypes, but they rarely transcend them. Evan himself comes across as a bit of a one-note dick, for whom it’s difficult to root. Not that anyone’s working with award-worthy dialogue, mind you. “That makes me the ninth wheel,” Zoe says of her single status. “That’s three times rougher than the third wheel,” Evan pointedly states.

“It was like I was a passenger in my own body…”

The film’s central gimmick – the demonic Hisji – is similarly not fleshed out enough to truly resonate. Worst of all, its main subject – suicide – is used mainly as an engine to power this gimmick, which comes dangerously close to being offensive. The very real issue of suicide is never explored, be it delicately or otherwise. According to Callahan, those young adults simply deserve to kill themselves. At least Shyamalan blamed nature for all the suicides in The Happening.

There’s a great story buried somewhere deep within the desert that is Head Count – about a brotherly bond, about jealousies that assume anthropomorphic shapes, about a demon that literally reflects our insecurities. Ellen Callahan hints at those stories but ends up telling the most basic version. Not quite the head trip it purports to be, Head Count is more likely to have you counting minutes until it’s over.

Head Count (2019) Directed by Elle Callahan. Written by Michael Nader. Starring Isaac Jay, Cooper Rowe, Ashleigh Morghan, Bevin Bru, Tory Freeth, Michael Herman, Sam Marra, Amaka Obiechie, Hunter Peterson, Riley Scott, Billy Meade, Chelcie May.

5 out of 10

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  1. Angel Flores says:

    This moive is buttcheeks 🤦‍♂️

  2. wastedmytime says:

    it’s one of those movies that make you feel mad after wasting time to watch it. This movie had so many holes and was so anticlimactic. I just can’t believe this movie was so bad. It took FOREVER for something interesting to happen. and the demon is supposed to be all scary but why was i unamused the whole time

  3. AnnoyedMovieFan says:

    This movie was trash. I shouldn’t have so many unanswered questions so far ahead in the film. It answers no questions even towards the end and makes no sense with all the context. It honestly just pisses you off as a viewer

  4. Laura Waterfield says:

    I’m a big horror geek. There are too many unanswered situations. Like where are the bodies. There were more than 5 people. 10 counting Evan. The line between both identical properties. I assume it was a parallel. Zoe at the end, what’s that all about. Maybe they all went to hell, there would still be bodies. Obviously Evan is the one left, the Demon going off with his brother. That was plain to understand. You set up rules for this thing then you don’t follow them completely. Zoe should have been dead or in worse condition from the fall. I like a story that eventually let’s you know for the most part at least some of the outcome.

    • Conner says:

      I assumed the demon spirited their bodies away. And that the demon merely appeared as Zoe at the end before Evan killed himself.

  5. Amayah says:

    I’m confused on what happened at the very end. where did everyone go after they “killed themselves” and like what happened when Zoe came back to him at the end ?

  6. Jon says:

    I actually thought it was pretty good! I’m a huge horror fan – particularly psychological horror – and one of my favorite movies is The Thing. I definitely got some vibes early on that this was a loose remake, but it held my interest. It had an atmospheric mood (granted – some of it was loose). However, I didn’t see suicide as its main subject. I saw it as a malevolent being who was offing a group of people. It was brutal, yes. But I don’t think it made it seem like it was using suicide to suggest anything more than the fact that the monster/being/demon/thing was trying to kill its victims. I was honestly surprised by how interested I was in this movie, and I think they did an excellent job at building on the paranoia. Certainly, I think it could have delved into the characters more. I still thought it delivered a creepy and weird story, despite most of the characters being basic. There were also a lot of little details that I think I missed, which definitely warrants a second watch.

  7. CARLOS C says:

    I have to agree with all of this. I was expecting more, even if it was just Evan is the monster all along. For instance he had x amount of friends at rhe beginning and he simply goes through groups of 5. If not why did it take his hookup first? What does it want? How does it alter perception/reality. I stayed because it was just interesting enough to keep you thinking but the payoff was off the mark. Too bad. I honestly would still watch the directors next film

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