locarno: A chilling exercise in precisely measured ambiguity, failing to deliver an intense and disturbing cinematic experience that may leave some frustrated by its enigmatic evasion. But there’s no mistaking the confident skill with which writer/director/editor mark jackson takes us deep into the turbulent world of his female lead, nor joslyn jensen’s bravura performance – as jackson, a remarkably promising film debut, in essence.
Part psychological thriller and part minimalist art flick, it’s not an easy sell (that forgettable title doesn’t exactly help), but it’s distinctive enough overall to perhaps garner limited national cinematic exposure. foreign festivals receptive to genuinely independent American cinema should check it out.
The setting is familiar from horror and thriller genres: a young woman arrives in a remote location to care for a house for her vacationing owners and is left unnerved by a series of hair-raising experiences. here joslyn (jensen shares her character’s name) is both caretaker and nurturer, tending to the needs of the family’s near-catatonic, wheelchair-bound grandfather frank (rum carrier) while they’re out.
Fitness-conscious and quiet-spoken, 19-year-old joslyn struggles to cope with very limited internet access on this picturesque, lush island in washington state. Among the things it lacks is that indispensable aspect of modern life, Facebook. She must also contend with advances from friendly unpopulated island taxi driver/handyman Darren (cool, imposingly bassist Darren Lenz). As the days go by, Joslyn’s mental balance gets a little off balance. we gradually piece together a traumatic backstory that has brought her to this particular place in this particular frame of mind.
While jackson’s script does provide some key information, it’s never easy to know how much to trust what you’re seeing and hearing. There are gaps in our understanding, reflecting Joslyn’s own unreliable relationship with reality. Obviously, something is wrong in this situation, but we are never able to identify it. a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it special effect even hints at a supernatural element at play. this involves white noise from a television, one of several unreliable manifestations of electronic technology. (Joslyn’s almost symbiotic attachment to his smartphone is a particular source of mystery and even angst.)
the film’s achievement is, as with roman polanski’s 1965 repulsion, an obvious influence, leaving us wondering to what extent joslyn could be in actual physical danger, and to what extent she is the primary source of that danger, both for her and for her. to others. she certainly is far from the model caregiver. Frank’s helpless treatment of her increasingly callous and arrogant crosses several lines of inappropriateness in a film that is frank in its presentation of nudity and female sexuality.
By biting fearlessly into a role that offers excellent display for a younger actress, Jensen manages to retain our interest and sympathy even as her character’s antics border on insanity. She is especially strong during monologues, some delivered solo, others in Frank’s vegetative presence. these punctuate the sparsely written script and are notable for their quicksilver unpredictability. The generally pessimistic tone is enhanced by moments of uneasy humor, as when Joslyn’s employers pedantically outline her extremely precise instructions about what she can and cannot do in her absence.
jessica dimmock and diego garcia’s high definition digital cameras get very close to jensen on many occasions. its sharp and bright images are a consistently hypnotic element, as nothing more than a humor piece establishes and develops its various sinister and cold atmospheres. Eric Strausser’s sound design is a marvel of almost subliminal effects (a wolf’s howl here, a branch snapping there) and whispering growls. The Jackson Edition, meanwhile, cuts its claustrophobic little narrative into energetic chunks that keep us constantly on the edge, intrigued and tempted by a bigger picture that’s always a little out of reach.
place: locarno film festival producer: right on red films cast: joslyn jensen, ron carrier, darren lenz, bob sentinella, piper weiss, jodi long director/writer/editor: mark jackson producers: mark jackson, jessica dimmock , michael requa, jaime keeling executive producer: jeff marchelletta cinematographers: jessica dimmock, diego garcia art director: alisarine ducolomb music: dave eggar, nancy magarill sales: right on red not rated, 87 minutes