**WARNING: CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS**
Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing James Cullen Bressack’s brutal home invasion flick Hate Crime (2012). Certainly a film that remains in the mind for a long time after the first viewing, it demonstrated Bressack’s talent for creating honest, realistic films that really get under the skin with his D-I-Y approach to filmmaking. He is living proof that low-budget, found footage films can be done well. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to view a screener of his latest feature To Jennifer, which incorporates a similar filmic style to Hate Crime but is far from it in terms of content and narrative.
The premise of To Jennifer has the makings of a dark, psychological thriller. Joey (Chuck Pappas) suspects his long-term girlfriend Jennifer (Jessica Cameron) is cheating on him. With this knowledge he enlists the help of his cousin Steve (James Cullen Bressack) to create a video for her so he can inform her he knows of her infidelity. The aim of the video is to document Joey’s emotions as he builds up to confront her. To Jennifer slides itself into the road movie category as the cousins have a long journey ahead of them to endure before they reach destination Jennifer!
Bressack and Pappas shot the film using the iphone 5 while giving insights from Joey and Steven’s perspectives of what occurs over the course of the film, allowing us to see both sides of the story. I can vouch that the camera quality on the iphone is sharp and far superior to using a video camera through experimenting between the two during my own experience creating a Making Of documentary. The sound on an iphone is also less distorted and clearer than your average recording camera.
An example of the power of modern technology, Bressack demonstrates that filmmaking is possible through the means of using a mobile phone and takes this resourceful approach throughout, making the film feel more naturalistic. If you weren’t aware that To Jennifer was a fictional movie, it would be as if you’d stumbled on a random film made by two friends, making the viewer feel like a voyeur, which is exactly what Hate Crime conveyed, a sense of intrusion on these people’s lives. That said, the power of reality television is used as a backdrop. While Joey is making a personal film for Jennifer’s eyes only, Steve constantly challenges the line between fiction and realism as he attempts to orchestrate conflict and manipulate the variables in their environment in order to make something an audience would find worthwhile. Its all about what will make a “good viewing” so to speak. For the characters it may be unintentional, but as the tension rises they start to make a completely twisted movie and for one of them, get more than they bargained for. Before taking a turn for the psychological thriller territory, the viewer is unsuspecting as with a slow build-up, the film throws you off-balance, leading you to think you’re just watching a “buddy, road movie”.
As stated, Bressack and Pappas give off natural performances, making the viewer believe in their characters and sense the tensions and conflicts they’re going through (possibly a comment on the lack of control filmmakers endure via the Hollywood System? Questioning “Who’s film is this really?”). Its certainly more convincing than ‘actual documentary’ Catfish (2010) , in which it displayed reminiscences of and is the film Catfish sort of set out to be. For the majority of the film they are joined by Steve’s buddy Martin (Jody Barton) who acts as the main comic relief much to Joey’s annoyance. He comes across as reluctant toward Joey’s intentions with the video and encourages him to forget Jennifer and enjoy himself. He seems locked in his own world and doesn’t see how his actions impact others and makes some pretty insane decisions which riles Joey further. After taking on the role of thug One in Hate Crime, it was nice to see Jody Barton in a lighter role, showing his versatility as an actor in a film by the same director. Chuck Pappas plays Joey as likeable to begin with then slowly builds him up as a ticking time bomb waiting to explode with rage as the reality sinks in about his girlfriend’s unfaithful behavior. Will his friends be able to save him from having a complete mental breakdown? Bressack’s character Steve has his heart in the right place but acts obnoxiously at times as he’s torn between his best friend and cousin. Bressack shows he’s a good actor as well as a talented and unique director. Between the three characters, they share an engaging dynamic that keeps the viewer with an edge of suspicion throughout.
It really is a film about communication, or lack of in a world where technology allows us the ability to converse with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Its a study of the power of the internet and how the separation between Facebook and real life is becoming more difficult to decipher. While Hate Crime may have been brutal on a visual level, To Jennifer’s brutality comes on a psychological platform which works more complexly rather than resorting to extreme violence and gore to carry the film forward. The film is well-shot and doesn’t just opt for the shaky cam tactic, these characters know how to use a camera. The shots aren’t static either, there’s a good balance between both mentioned; mainstream found footage flicks should take note. Tristan Risk ( Beatress in American Mary) makes a voice over cameo as a flight attendant which added to its indie film vibe, through selecting the type of actress associated with underground filmmaking. While slow paced to begin with, To Jennifer keeps you on edge from the start to the nail-biting finale leaving you apprehensive and excited about what could happen next. Well done to James Cullen Bressack for making another twisted and insightful film, his work will continue to be supported by Hayley’s Horror Reviews.
Hayley Alice Roberts.