Evan (Isaac Jay) visits his older brother, Peyton (Cooper Rowe), with plans of spending the weekend hiking in the Joshua Tree desert. On their first trip out they run into a group of nine teens roughly the same age as Evan. One of the teens invites the brothers to get high with them and Evan happily accepts. After chatting a bit, Evan hits it off with Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan) and she invites him back to a party.
Evan decides to take Zoe up on her offer and bails on his brother to party with strangers. They head to a house the kids are renting and proceed to drink the rest of the day away. Later that night they start a fire outside and share ghost stories. Evan reads a story off his phone that doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense and the other ridicule him for it.
Unbeknownst to them all, Evan’s story accidentally unleashes a paranormal presence on the group. This spooky shapeshifting being is able to mimic the appearance of the teens, allowing it the ability to play tricks on them. The goal is to break the group of ten into two separate groups of five in order to perform a deadly ritual. Yikes.
Head Count is a Creepypasta film from director Elle Callahan that has its moments. It takes a while to get going with the first twenty minutes or solely focusing on the teens drinking and smoking. The first sign that trouble is developing comes when Evan and Zoe spend some alone time in a hot tub. As the two get close, Evan notices a dark figure off in the distance. He later questions the others and discovers that none of them were outside.
From here things start to pick up. The menacing presence begins to move closer, causing the group to see things that may not be there. This leads to bickering and a lack of trust. Max (Billy Meade), the de facto leader of the group, pushes back on Evan, believing his brother to be responsible. This builds until they finally realize they are facing a supernatural entity that cannot be explained and each one of their lives is on the line.
There are moments within Head Count that are really successful. It’s an incredibly well shot film that makes great use of the desert scenery. There is a creepy aura that floats throughout and starts to get into your head. More than once I found myself thinking, “wait, what the fuck was that?” The tricks being played on the characters are effective enough to get to the audience.
As the film moves along, despite its slow pace, it does a tremendous job building the tension. It keeps you pulled in as it dances along and you eagerly waiting for it to all boil-over. Unfortunately, it never quite does.
Head Count suffers from two major flaws that prevent it from becoming something truly special. The first being that there are too many characters that lack distinct personalities. The basic premise requires ten featured characters and that’s no easy feat to pull off. There are technically ten different characters present, but they are more or less the same. Save for Evan and Max, everyone from the main group is interchangeable. Because of this, it makes it difficult to keep track of what’s going on, and nearly impossible to actually care about any of them on an individual level.
The second big hangup is that the film just sort of ends. There’s no real conclusion and when the final credits roll it feels like something is missing. It ends up being a real bummer because I was on board, eager to reach the conclusion. And then nothing.
Head Count is a film with some real skill behind it. The story is interesting and one you want to explore. It has the ability to get under your skin at times and give you a case of the heebie-jeebies. Unfortunately, without characters you care about and a landing that doesn’t stick, it leaves you wishing this pasta were cooked just a tad longer.