Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jack Be Nimble (1993)

Jack Be Nimble is a pretty obscure 1993 New Zealand horror film starring Alexis Arquette (back when “she” was a “he”) that deals with evil foster families, deaths by hypnosis and a psychic sister who has a rather icky relationship with an older, equally psychically-gifted man. It is a very dark and solemn film that really doesn’t have much of a strong plot, instead focusing on the odd characters scattered throughout and its somber atmosphere.

The film begins with two young siblings witnessing their mother have a nervous breakdown. When their father comes home, the mother has split, and the children are placed in an orphan’s home. Soon the siblings are separated as the little girl, named Dora, is adopted by doting parents, while little Jack is adopted by a cruel farming family. As Dora grows up with kisses, presents and lots of love, Jack grows up being mercilessly abused by his foster father, mother and four sisters, both mentally and physically. The two never stop thinking about each other, and eventually Jack builds a kind of hypnosis machine and dispatches of his cruel family, setting out on the road to find his sister. His sister has also developed psychic abilities and is able to pinpoint where Jack is. With the help of an older psychic, whom I suppose becomes her boyfriend (such awkward sex scenes…), she finds Jack and the two set out to find their biological parents. Yet, Jack harbors a lot of hatred for them, and Dora fears what he might do with his hypnosis machine. Also, Jack is being trailed by his four sisters, who are out for revenge for what he did to their parents.

Where to even begin with this odd little flick? I suppose the first thing I noticed was the somber mood throughout. This is a dark film that unflinchingly deals with child abuse and the ensuing psychological damage that occurs. It could also be seen as a study of nurture vs. nature, with two siblings being reared in extremely different circumstances. It is definitely not a “fun” horror flick and carries its grim tone throughout. The tone is almost otherworldly, like it was lifted straight out of a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale.

Adding to the fairy tale-like atmosphere are the almost-caricatured characters of Jack’s evil family – from brutish father to uptight and cruel mother to the silent yet menacing four sisters. I also liked the use of chiaroscuro throughout the film. Deep, dark shadows dominated the first part of the film, only to be juxtaposed with lighter, brighter colors later in the film. Most of the film carried with it a bleak atmosphere, though, and utilized the contrast of light and dark to show just how black the darkness really was.

Story-wise, the plot wasn’t that developed, and it felt like writer Garth Maxwell (who also directed) was a bit all over the place with the psychic/telekinetic/hypnotic powers of the lead characters. Nonetheless, the result was intense interactions between the two siblings. Actors Alexis Arquette and Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, who played Jack and Dora respectively, had a great chemistry and really gave the roles their all. I was surprised at how intense and serious Arquette could act, considering I only remember him from The Wedding Singer and Bride of Chucky. And Smuts-Kennedy (poor girl, doesn’t she have a separate stage name?) was equally good as Dora, even in the intensely awkward sex scenes she had to do with the creepy older guy.

The film isn’t that gory or bloody, but the deaths were very satisfying to watch, especially since most of the victims deserved it. Jack’s hypnosis machine was especially intriguing, but it wasn’t explained much. I think he, like his sister, had certain telepathic abilities but needed the machine he built to channel them. Anyways, I really enjoyed seeing him getting payback against his family in rather satisfying ways. The ending when they must face the four sisters was pretty tense, with someone’s grisly death being somewhat unexpected and a bit of a letdown. And the strange last scene just seemed really unnecessary, like out-of-nowhere unnecessary!

Jack Be Nimble is a very odd, off-kilter horror film that feels more of like a twisted fairy tale rather than a straight-forward horror film. Despite its flimsy story, I was nonetheless intrigued by the characters and their abilities. Add in some evil people you can enjoy watching die via hypnosis and telekinesis and you’ve got yourself an overall satisfying, if not weird, horror flick! If you are looking for something completely different with a grim, somber feel to it, you should give Jack Be Nimble a look!

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