04th Jul2013

‘To Jennifer’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Chuck Pappas, Jessica Cameron, James Cullen Bressack, Jody Barton | Written by James Cullen Bressack, Chuck Pappas (additional dialogue) | Directed by James Cullen Bressack

Pardon my language but… Fuck me! I’ve been a fan of James Cullen Bressack’s work for some time now, ever since that fateful day he sent me an email asking me if I’d like to review his first full-length feature My Pure Joy. Bressack followed that hard-hitting flick with a segment in the first Theatre of the Deranged anthology and the notorious (and totally amazing), Hate Crime. Now in all honesty I though he couldn’t top Hate Crime. After all that film was, at least for me, a perfect mix of story and style – Bressack’s directorial sensibilities fit perfectly with the content and you could tell that everyone involved wanted to make the best movie they could, even given the touchy subject matter. However, now comes To Jennifer

When I originally got the announcement email from James about To Jennifer I thought he was crazy. Going from the high point of Hate Crime, to lensing (and also releasing) a film on an iPhone 5? That sounded like a huge, nay massive, gamble; but given his penchant for taking risks – after all who else, in this day and age, would lens a home invasion movie tinged with racist overtones? – I figured he knew what he was doing.

Bressack is not the first to go down this route of course, way back in the early days of what was Blogomatic3000 I reviewed an iPhone app-come-web series-come-film starring Judd Nelson called Here and Now, which was produced and directed by the Ronalds Brothers (Netherbeast Incorporated) and then there was the UK-lensed film/mini-series When Evil Calls, which had plenty of promotion on the Horror Channel but didn’t make much of an impact when it was released in segments for phones, eventually hitting DVD a few years later. But in both those cases, the “films” were shot using regular equipment and then released to phones. But what Bressack has done with To Jennifer is both film and then release the finished product on a phone – a first for indie filmmaking I do believe (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

So why the language in the opener? Well Bressack has kicked it out of the park AGAIN! And… as I always reiterate in my reviews, I have a particular disdain for found-footage flicks – it takes something super-special for me to prick up my ears and take notice. Well To Jennifer is one such film.

The official synopsis for To Jennifer goes something like this: “Joey suspects his girlfriend of two years, Jennifer, is cheating on him. He is so convinced that he enlists the help of his cousin Steven to create a video diary of his attempt to catch her in the act as well as to document the heartbreak she is putting him through. In an attempt to make her feel guilty, he intends to give this tape to her after catching her in the act.” However, like all of Bressack’s movies the synopsis is just the tip of the iceberg – a mere premise if you will – which allows him to explore motivations and themes way beyond the scope of the outlined plot.

To Jennifer starts out very much like a “guys messing around” flick – they shoot the shit, talk smack to each other, get drunk, go partying. Hell there’s even a backyard brawl thrown into the mix. A typical lads night out right? But at the same time you know, this being a James Cullen Bressack film, that’s there’s something brewing. Something bubbling under the surface.

But first let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way – shooting the film POV style on an iPhone 5. As I said earlier, I’m not the biggest fan of found-footage/POV lensed flicks. However my dislike of the majority of these types of films is the reliance on “shaky cam” footage to generate scares. Bressack doesn’t. To Jennifer is shot very much like you or I would shot footage on our phones – in fact if you’ve ever watched a ‘professional’ YouTube vlogger shooting footage “out and about” on their phone you’ll know what to expect. Only Bressack brings his directorial eye to proceedings (as well as appearing in the film as Joey’s cousin Steven), focusing much more on the subject in the frame, sans shaky cam, than you typically see in a “found footage” film. Plus the picture quality is friggin’ awesome to say it was shot on a phone!

As the film plays out its brief 75-minute runtime there’s some odd twists and turns which leave you guessing as to what is going on, and even moreso, where the film is headed. Midway through the film there’s a sign of things to come as our trio of Joey, Steven and their party-hard friend Martin hole-up in an sleazebag, seemingly abandoned, motel. From then on out it’s a lot clearer as to just what is REALLY going on with Joey and Jennifer, taking To Jennifer into Catfish-like territory…

To say anymore about the films “journey” would undoubtedly spoil the impact of To Jennifer‘s final fifteen minutes and Chuck Pappas’ frankly amazing tour-de-force performance as the scorned Joey (I’m totally digging Pappas’ self-penned insane final credits song too!). And speaking of performances, Bressack himself doesn’t do too badly either as he uncovers the truth about his cousin in what is another impactful denouement – something which is becoming a trademark of Bressack’s film making.

One of James Cullen Bressack’s most accessible films (which should surely see better worldwide distribution than his previous efforts), To Jennifer is released on DVD and VOD in the US on October 15th through MVD. The film will also debut as an official app for iPhone 5, including the full film, through Apple and Zoovision.

**** 4/5

Oh and if, like me, you’re a fan of Bressack and have seen his previous flicks there’s a nice nod to My Pure Joy in To Jennifer‘s opener… See if you can spot it!

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