Monday, March 21, 2016

"What Jack Built" A DIY Short Film Take On The Monster Movie Genre

Genre: Horror
Length- 11:16
Company:  N/A

There's something out there in the woods.  Is it an animal?  A force of evil?  We don't know, and perhaps not even Jack (Timothy J. Cox) knows, but he's determined to catch it anyway.  To do this, he's got to use every last bit of ingenuity he can scrape up because it's not going to be easy.


"What Jack Built" is a bare bones project directed, edited and scored by 17 year old filmmaker Matthew Mahler.  He even co-wrote the script with Ross Mahler.  He clearly took the bull by the horns here and created his own vision, and you have to admire something like that out of a new filmmaker, particularly someone so young.

And what we have here is an interesting amalgamation of horror influences.  I detect elements of Sam Raimi's early, wild eyed directorial style and John Carpenter's intensely streamlined storytelling and thumping score.  There's probably more that we could peel out of "What Jack Built", but the point is that Mahler's wearing influences on his sleeve, which is perfectly healthy for a new talent.


Where we falter in this short film is in the writing.  There's not much of a story going on -- if you were to describe the story to someone, you could sum it up in two words.  "Jack builds."  That's what you're going to see for 85% of the running time -- actor Cox running around retrieving parts and putting them together.  It's mildly interesting for the first few minutes, but it gets kind of tiring after a while.

One way this period of the film could have been enhanced would have been with the occasional flashback, or a voiceover -- something describing the origins of the monster, or why Jack's obsessed with it in the first place.  As it is, we know nothing about anything, and that stops any kind of emotional involvement we have with what's going on before our eyes.

Bottom line: audiences these days have too many reasons to not watch your movie to begin with, so if you're going to tell a story, we need to know more.  We need a reason to care about the characters.  We need mystery, yes, but we need something to go on WITH the mystery.


Writing: 1 / 5.  There's not enough story here to pad out the running time, which feels excessively long because it's almost entirely just Jack building a trap.  
Directing: 2 / 5.  I liked the camera movement, but there wasn't a sense of dynamics -- we were pretty much running around the entire time, and it never let up.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  Fast cutting throughout, but the transitions were good and the fade ins and outs worked nicely within the context of the movie.  Alternating longer held shots with some of those fast cutting periods would work wonders to give some dynamics to Mahler's filmmaking.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  I liked the nifty synth score Mahler's come up with -- reminded me of the sort of thing John Carpenter wrote in his prime.  But I have to say that it suffers a little from, again, not enough variety.  It's very upbeat throughout.  If we're going to have tension, sometimes you have to ease up a little.  Let the music breathe.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Cox plays his part well -- a little bit mad scientist, a little bit determined backwoods MacGuyver.  It works.

Final Grade: 2.3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "What Jack Built" on Vimeo and check out the cast and crew on IMDb!

Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!