Review

'Jackals' may be derivative, but it still provides frights

Before director Kevin Greutert helmed “Saw VI” and “Jessabelle,” he was the editor on the terrific home-invasion thriller “The Strangers.” Greutert’s new horror film “Jackals” (written by Jared Rivet) feels disappointingly derivative of the movie he worked on a decade ago, but at least he knows how to shape this kind of material into something relatively jolting.

The big difference between “Jackals” and “The Strangers” is that the new film squeezes in more story. About a third of the way into the picture, a group of masked interlopers arrives in the black of night and begins tormenting the middle-class Powell family at a cabin in the woods. By the time they arrive, the audience knows what they want.

It turns out that the Powells’ son Justin has changed his name to Thanatos and joined a death cult. When the family hires a gruff deprogrammer (Stephen Dorff) to kidnap the kid and bring him to the wilderness retreat, he practically dares Justin’s new associates to come take him back.

The padded-out plot adds little to “Jackals.” Greutert has a strong cast of pros — including Deborah Kara Unger and Johnathon Schaech as Justin’s parents — but they can’t do much with dialogue that largely exists to explain how this family fell apart in the first place.

Still, the movie does what it sets out to do: stranding the viewer in a dark place, surrounded by remorseless predators. It’s an old recipe that can still please a crowd.

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‘Jackals’

No rating

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Playing: TCL Chinese Theaters, Hollywood

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