A family’s attempt to liberate their brainwashed son from a dangerous cult sees them menaced by its murderous members in Jackals. This chilling variation on the home invasion/siege thriller is a scenario that director and editor Kevin Greutert could relate to.

“As a child in the 1970s, my own family had a very terrifying run-in with a fellow who eventually lived in a jail cell next to Charles Manson,” the director tells STACK. “For privacy reasons I can’t describe the details behind the Greutert family’s siege, but suffice it to say that I have lived the experience of being trapped in a house by a hostile force.”

As well as first hand experience, Greutert was attracted to the taut concept and the troubled family dynamics at the heart of screenwriter Jared Rivet’s story.

“Ever since I edited The Strangers in 2007 I had been looking for a siege movie of my own that would let me apply some of the lessons I’d learned working with [director] Bryan Bertino. And with Jackals I found a believable reason for the family to be victimised by the cult that wants their son back, which is a lot more interesting to me than more “movie-ish” motivations for bad guys, like in the film You’re Next.”

Deprogramming a cult member is analogous to an exorcism and to get into the spirit of Jackals, the director looked to the work of famous real-life cult deprogrammer Ted Patrick.

“Like Jimmy in the film (played by Stephen Dorff), Patrick is a complicated and tricky person, and has had some serious legal encounters due to his actions that allegedly amount to kidnapping, even if it’s for the good of the cultist who he is bringing back to their family. Apparently not everyone wants to be returned to mainstream society… In any event, Patrick is a great character study.

“In Jared’s original script, the cult was more satanic, with dark hoods and robes, but our producer wanted to veer away from this, and eventually we landed on the imagery of a cult that presents itself as a pack of jackals. This led to a lot of research into the nature and dynamic of gangs, and such books as Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels.”

When asked if any particular films influenced his approach to Jackals, Greutert cites The Strangers, Breck Eisner’s The Crazies remake, Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, the French films Martyrs and Inside, and Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs amongst others.

“I tried to create a simple colour palette, with blacks and orange/red inside the house during the siege, and black with blue/cyan tones outside, with the cold arid light of the car headlights shining into the house representing the evil force of the cultists. While our actual shooting location wasn’t particularly remote, I used as much cinema language as I could cull from my own experience as an editor and director to make it seem like the family was far from any possible help, particularly in my use of sound design.”

Greutert – who has also directed sequels Saw VI and Saw: The Final Chapter, as well as editing the James Wan original – says he loves the extremes that are available to a filmmaker when working in the horror genre. “The camera angles, the lighting, the use of sound, the intensity of emotions – all these things can be really bold in horror, such that when I contemplate making a straight drama, I’m concerned about being boring. I also love being able to end a story with the main character screaming and dying! It’s like Greek tragedy.”

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