The idea of a micro-budget found footage horror film shot entirely with an iPhone might be a quick turn-off for a lot of viewers – the iPhone is hardly a professional-level cinematographer’s tool, after all – but for those with an open mind, a little bit of patience, or a pointed interest in “DIY” filmmaking techniques, the scrappy but engaging To Jennifer may prove to be quite interesting. It’s not that To Jennifer boasts a particularly eventful plot or much in the way of visual accomplishment, but for all its budgetary constraints, a handful of improvisational rough spots, and a few redundancies here and there, the movie stands as compelling evidence that pretty much anyone can make a movie these days.
Written and directed by the prolific James Cullen Bressack (whose Hate Crime was recently banned by the UK film censors), To Jennifer takes “found footage” in a slightly different direction than what the horror fans are normally used to. Joey (Chuck Pappas) believes that his long-distance girlfriend Jennifer (Jessica Cameron) is having an affair, so he enlists his wildly obnoxious cousin Steven (Bressack) to join in (and film) a road trip to drop in on Jen and see what the hell is going on. It takes less than five minutes before the viewer realizes that Joey is not being completely honest about his relationship with Jennifer, but much of the film’s suspense lies in discovering precisely how full of crap our central character is. It certainly doesn’t help Joey’s agitated frame of mind that his cousin is a loud, caustic, jerk of a travelling partner.
The duo get tossed off a plane (thanks to Joey’s neuroses and Steven’s awfulness), so they enlist the assistance of their Martin (Jody Barton), and that’s sort of when To Jennifer turns into a slightly aimless but oddly compelling series of disparate misadventures (Joey gets beat up at a party; Joey flips out; Martin hires some hookers; Joey flips out; Steven makes trouble with his big mouth; Joey flips out; etc.) Martin and Steven are convinced that Joey is just dealing with a typical break-up, so they aim to distract him with various bro-friendly activities, but they fail to recognise how manic, unhinged, and obsessed Joey has become with this end goal.
Given how To Jennifer was made (on the fly, with no money, with a smartphone, etc.) one can expect a good deal of improvisation from the actors, and while the guys do a fine job of laying the foundation for Joey’s obsessive behaviour, there are also a few scenes in which “screaming at the top of your lungs” seems to be the sole method of communication. And while To Jennifer is mostly about one guy’s unsettling obsession with a girl, it’s also about the “bro dynamic” that consistently seeks to mock weakness, to ridicule emotion, and to deride all things related to legitimate grown-up emotion. (Basically, Joey would probably be a lot happier and healthier if his two closest pals weren’t such selfish assholes.)
To Jennifer is a scrappy, strange, and inconsistent little “gimmick” flick, but it’s also a testament to what a small group of filmmakers can pull off with very little in the way of budgetary support. It’s also impressive, despite a few rough spots, for trying to construct a psychologically suspenseful road movie as opposed to yet another shaky-cam horror tale in which people just wander around in the forest for 80 minutes. Like the flick or not, To Jennifer at least tries to do something fresh with found footage, and that’s always nice to see.
Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)
TO JENNIFER is available exclusively in the UK here from April 20