If you want to keep your lunch down, stay out of the videos on Judge Daryl Loomis's phone.
Don't tell anyone.
For whatever the merits of To Jennifer, and they exist, it is notable for one thing. In a time when cheap digital cameras have democratized filmmaking, for better or for worse, writer/director James Cullen Bressack (Hate Crime) has taken it one step further by creating the first movie ever to be shot, edited, and distributed entirely on the iPhone, the iPhone5 to be exact. As such, it's a very small, very simple movie that works well for what it tries to accomplish.
Joey (Chuck Pappas) is convinced that his long distance girlfriend, Jennifer (Jessica Cameron, The Black Dahlia Haunting), is cheating on him, so he recruits his cousin, Steven (Bressack), to assist him with a little project. He wants to document a road trip out to see her, which will culminate in him catching her in the act and showing her the resulting movie. So, along with Martin (Jody Barton, 13/13/13), Steven's best friend and the one with the car, they set out on a cross country road trip where, along the way, it becomes clear that Joey isn't telling the whole story.
To Jennifer is basically found footage horror, but approaches the style in a slightly different way. Instead of it having been "found," Joey more invites the audience to join him in his journey, almost like he's live-blogging this horrible experience. Playing Steven, tasked with the filming, allows Bressack to function as the cinematographer and a credible character in the story at the same time. The conceit works because, unlike something like Cloverfield, where I constantly ask myself why that dummy doesn't put the camera down, filming everything in To Jennifer is the whole point.
While I can't pretend that the movie is scary, Bressack is able build a fair bit of tension. It's slow and talky, but when the payoff hits, it's pretty effective. The problem, though, is that you can see it coming a mile away. A pair of incidents happens fairly early in the story that makes it easy to glean how this thing is going to go down. This is an issue with a lot of horror movies, so it should come as no surprise, and it works well enough anyway.
To Jennifer is limited by its technology, so, while it's impressive that they were able to get as much as they did, it obviously isn't the most stylish or beautiful horror film out there. It's filled with stolen shots, such as a plane flight scene that would likely have upset American Airlines had they known, and all of that's pretty cool in an independent filmmaking way, but a lot of it is just people talking to the camera or complaining that the camera is always shining in their faces. It's not particularly broad or inventive horror, beyond the iPhone thing of course, but the characters are believable, if douchy and creepy, and the dialog is natural.
The DVD also reflects the limitations of the tech, with a 1.78:1 image that looks like it was shot on a phone. It's grainy and muddled, though it might look better as originally intended, distributed through the iPhone app store, than it does on a big television. The sound fares pretty much the same, with fine-sounding dialog and no real noise, but no dynamic range, either. There are no sound effects or music in the movie, so the voices are at the front of the mix.
The only extra is a commentary from the three principle actors, two of whom were the entire crew. They're all friends and have done a bunch of work together, so it's comfortable and jokey. They're rightfully proud of what they were able to accomplish on next to nothing, though the audio on it is badly overblown, so it's a little bit of a tough listen.
To Jennifer doesn't break any new ground as a horror story, but it works pretty well on its extremely small scale. More than anything, it's an important piece of work based on its technology. It's sort of like those poor and enterprising young filmmakers who used the Fisher-Price Pixelvision many years ago, except you can actually see what's happening onscreen. Hopefully, others will see the movie and be inspired by what they've done because if there's one thing I fully support, it's young directors with no money who still make solid horror movies.
It isn't great, but it's also not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
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