(director: Elle Callahan; screenwriters: Michael Nader/story by Elle Callahan & Michael Nader; cinematographer: Sean Bagley; editor: Nick Wright; music: Hannah Parrott;  cast: Isaac W. Jay (Evan), Ashleigh Morghan (Zoe), Billy Meade (Max), Bevin Bru (Camille), Hunter Peterson (Nico), Chelcie May (Vanessa), Tory Freeth (Tori), Michael Herman (Sam), Amaka Obiechie (Haley), Sam Marra (Bryan), Cooper Rowe (Peyton); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Sam Sandweiss, Brandon Somberhalder; Samuel Goldwyn Films; 2018)

“A clever supernatural horror film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Elle Callahan in her directorial debut feature gives us a clever supernatural horror film. It builds suspense that overcomes its opening bland scene. It’s based on the story she co-wrote with Michael Nader.
College student Evan (Isaac W. Jay) cancels spending a weekend with his older brother Peyton (Cooper Rowe), who lives in the desert in a trailer near Joshua Tree National Park, to be with a group of strangers—nine friends who have rented a house in the desert to shoot the breeze, drink tequila and get stoned. There’s a mutual attraction between Evan and Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan) upon first glance, who invited him to the outing. The group includes Zoe’s ex Max (Billy Meade).

During the group telling of campfire spooky ghost stories, on his turn Evan somehow conjures up the shape-shifting mythological demon Hisje. He does so by repeating the monsters name five times, following the instructions he received online. When things get rough, like the monster is stalking them and takes five of them off, Max displays his antagonism toward the new guy. This is when the pic becomes a scary delight, as reality gets shaken up and we no longer waste time with all the meaningless chit-chat.

The story, though ludicrous, is satisfactorily told through the eyes of Evan. The eerie original score by Hannah Parrott adds greatly to the charged electric atmosphere.

Isaac Jay and Ashleigh Morghan in Head Count (2018)

REVIEWED ON 6/14/2019       GRADE: B