Writer/Directors: Caroline Poggi & Jonathan Vinel
Starring: Aomi Muyock, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Augustin Raguenet
Jessica is the leader of a group of lost boys with a violent past who now seek peace and harmony. She is the only one to have ever brought them love and understanding. They only wish to create a world where they can live in peace together, and forever. Initial Reaction K. Where to start…Jessica Forever exists in a Terrence Malick-like ethereal realm where violent orphans band together for survival against an army of killer drones but that makes it sound way more exciting than it actually is. The style of the film is reminiscent of a music video, beautiful images combined with poetic dialogue that sadly amounts to nothing. The narrative is so thin it’s invisible. Basically, Jessica (Aomi Muyock) mothers a flock of these violent orphans, shepherding them into a surrogate family quite successfully. Her efforts are noble, as is the underlying message of the film but little is done to express that dramatically. I could relay a detailed plot synopsis but suffice it to say the group faces off against a squad of drones and escapes to an idyllic island to lay low and what starts off as a post apocalyptic sci-fi action film devolves into a pretentious tone poem. Aomi Muyock has an undeniable screen presence, unfortunately she is given very little to do. Advertised as the lead, she falls into the background as the film focuses more on two orphans in the group: Michael (Sebastian Urzendowsky) and Lucas (Augustin Raguenet) as their friendship is tested when Michael falls in love and they clash with the locals on the island. It becomes a kind of cosmic coming of age drama with lines like: “bad things don’t last forever. We have to stop them from lasting.” As poetry or in the right dramatic context I would perhaps applaud this but here it falls painfully flat. It comes across as something you would read in a generic inspirational meme or instagram post. I’m not even going to get into some of the effects that pop up later on with Lucas and his dead little sister, who we come to find out he killed. They come way out of left field. I will say there is a fantastic moment of self-immolation toward the end that reflected my feeling as a viewer at that point in the film. I’m not into bashing films, or sitting here and Monday morning quarterbacking the story/plot but sadly this is an instance where the audience was left out of the process. I found no character or story here that I could connect to and that’s what I was hoping to do, in any context, whether it leans hard into sci-fi action or hard into surrogate family drama, makes no difference to me. I’m all in to go on an emotional journey in any genre but that was not an option. This was an exercise in style that left me cold. C. Once it started, Jessica Forever feels like an arthouse version of a SyFy channel series or a post-Matrix dystopian thriller.. Don’t get me wrong, that description sounds like something right up my alley and there are moments (more ideas) within it that I enjoyed. It’s beautifully shot, the acting is strong and what it’s trying to say is a powerful statement on masculinity. However, it’s a common case that we’ve dealt with lately of something that focuses on its look and overt themes but forgets to tell a story or at least build the world. The film claims to set us in what is meant to be a dystopian future but the only indication of that are the attack drones that kind of are hunting them. Yet anyone they interact with outside their group seems like regular people living in our version of this world. This must be mentioned because a lot of focus relies heavily on the fact that these “orphans” (basically violent marauders) are said to control the cities but it’s not seen apart from a lot of vacant houses. At the beginning we are introduced to Kevin who is the cliche character that comes in to act as the audience, giving the filmmakers an easy way to introduce other characters, which they go through multiple times. A lot of the beginning is spent on Kevin in his transition from violent criminal to regaining his humanity. Then he’s killed and it sets in motion a series of events that leads to this makeshift family’s end. The issue with Kevin’s death is it doesn’t feel like it warrants the impact on the group that would unfold had it been another character (ex. Julien). What his death actually creates is a period of time where the story is floating around to find new protagonists. While I don’t mind ensemble pieces at all or even meandering story structure, we’re left to attach to something or someone to propel the story forward. You get that for moments within the relationship between Michael and Lucas but anytime they head in a promising direction, it cuts to one of the other orphans in some one step forward, two steps back scenario. Now this is coming from someone that was craving to like this movie, because there are so many nuggets that the potential for something amazing is in sight. And while I’d never be one to promote traditional story structure, there are many points throughout where it would have benefitted the watch. I will credit it with being memorable. There’s a strong artistic vision that helps it rise above a lot of movies plagued with the same issues and are forgotten an hour after the viewing. J. So I guess… orphans are bad and are to be killed by violent, gun-wielding drones in the future? Or a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future. I’m not really sure but everyone who isn’t an orphan seems fine and can frolic on the beach and go grocery shopping with no consequences. In the opening we are introduced to a character named Kevin who the group takes in as one of their own. Twenty minutes later, Kevin is killed by the drones and all but one of the group seem to notice. I can sort of relate. I was never really sure of the “rules” of the world that was created other than the aforementioned “death to orphans.” The surrogate mother, Jessica is heralded as this angel-like figure but as the story went on, she was relegated further and further into the background and then Lucas’ sister appears to him as a ghost. Almost every story element seemed to come out of left field and when it was all over, we were left with a completely ambiguous resolution that I just didn’t really understand. The group had already successfully fled the drone onslaught once before… why not do it again? After one of them, Julien, commits suicide I was half-expecting all of them to do the same but even that wouldn’t have held any weight because we were only privy to Michael and Lucas as characters anyway. This is a hard one to even comment on because I’m not really sure how the film wants me to feel or what kind of message it was sending.
Response C. I feel like I may have enjoyed it a little more than these other two, and I can’t argue with where they’re coming from in pointing out the very noticeable issues. Jessica Forever is in that weird space that’s playing for a very niche audience and it knows it. If you’re into kind of (but not really) dystopian, kind of (but not really) coming-of-age, arthouse, with great acting and beautiful cinematography, then I encourage you to watch it. I’m glad I got to see it and I think with another person’s script or a strict producer, these filmmakers have a lot of promise once they remember that even in a meandering, arthouse film, “story is first.” J. As I’m thinking about this film the day after my screener I was just struck by the notion that maybe all of these people are psychos and their version of the “dystopia” isn’t really real? I’m reaching here but anything seems up for grabs and you’ll see why once you watch it. Unfortunately, the biggest takeaway I got from Jessica Forever is that I think more could’ve been done in the writing of the story to engage the audience to hold them hostage instead of ignoring them completely. K. What little good I can say about the film is that the acting and technical craftsmanship are very good, granted without a strong dramatic story the actors don’t quite get their due. I really look forward to seeing more from Aomi Muyock, hopefully she gets meatier roles. Otherwise I have to agree with most of the points made by Craig and Josh. The proposed statement of the film is well-meaning, but as they say “if you want to send a message, try Western Union”, it’s all for naught if you don’t engage the audience on an emotional level. This was a memorable film, in that it was frustrating to watch and unrewarding. For the record I love arthouse films, horror or not. I’m a huge fan of Cassavetes who created films that “seem” to meander as they follow deeply troubled characters who express themselves obliquely, as we do in real life, through contradictory behavior and oblique dialogue. Those films appear to be muddled as they clearly express the muddled point of view of their characters. I say this to illustrate the point that labeling this “arthouse” is no excuse for poor storytelling. This movie made me excited to fold my laundry. Bloodhound’s average score: 2 out of 5