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THE JACK IN THE BOX (2019)

Directed by Lawrence Fowler
Written by Lawrence Fowler
Starring Ethan Taylor, Robert Nairne, Lucy-Jane Quinlan, Philip Ridout, Darrie Gardner, Charles Abomeli, Simon Balfour, Tom Carter, Vinnie Clarke, Stacey Lynn Crowe, William Frazer, Laura Janes, Kathleen Ray, Penelope Wildgoose
Find out more about this film here!

The thing about Jack in the Boxes is that, unless you’re simple or a 4-year-old, the more you use it, the less scary the big surprise is. This law of diminishing returns applies to THE JACK IN THE BOX. Once you get what it is about, it’s all downhill from there.

The film opens with a big intro kill as a farmer digs up a Jack in the Box, takes it home and gives the lever a twirl, and the clown-faced Jack pops out to scare him and his wife. The farmer loses interest and leaves, but his wife is more fascinated with it, gives it another whirl and a monstrous clown leaps out and drags her back in. This makes for a shocking intro, but it also let’s you know what is the come for the rest of the movie as an American named Casey Reynolds (Ethan Taylor) takes a job at a historical museum in the UK and uncovers the box in a pile of junk. After opening it, Casey is cursed by the box and pretty much anyone who comes into contact with him is soon killed by the Jack monster. With the police suspicious that it is him doing the killing, Jack tries to discover the box’s origins and how to beat the curse before it kills 6 people.

Looking at THE JACK IN THE BOX as a short film, I think it would have been much more effective. That one and done surprise works in it’s own way, but having the same gag happen again and again as one person after another become transfixed with the box and then getting dragged in by the clown becomes monotonous. Off the top of my head, I can think of a ton of ways to fix this. First and foremost, don’t spoil the kill at the beginning! Have the farmer and his wife twirl the lever and then cut to a scream from a distant shot of the farmhouse. Then go back in to reveal the woman lying in a puddle of blood and organs and the farmer screaming. That would give us the initial scare yet leave a bit of mystery for the audience to experience later on. Prolonging the punchline makes it more potent and making us wonder what horrors lay inside that box.

We don’t get that kind of storytelling here. Instead, THE JACK IN THE BOX is a one trick pony of a film that spoils the joke early and retells it like a drunk on a barstool, expecting the same big reaction every damn time. Twirl the lever, the clown crawls out, drags the person in with him. Why? No reason. We don’t really know why Jack is doing the killing and what he is collecting his victims for. We never really see what’s inside the box at all. There’s some back story about Jacks being evil demons bent on killing people and the boxes trapping it like an evil djinn, but all of that is mapped out vaguely. Instead we get Casey bumbling across the countryside making house calls to past victims and demonologists and unceremoniously gathering bits of discourse about the box from them while slowly revealing a dirty secret of Casey’s past. All of it as thrilling as it sounds.

I really love the potential of THE JACK IN THE BOX. God, I can’t stop thinking about how I would love to re-do this movie with real scares, real mystery, real stakes at stake. We just don’t get it here. The actors are ok—good looking and capable, but bland. The relationship that they are trying to build between Casey and a co-worker (Lucy-Jane Quinlan) isn’t that interesting and most of the conversations between the two are awkward and weird. The whole film comes off as static, looking more like a PBS soap opera than a movie. And the potential scares are simply wasted. Jack (played by Robert Nairne) looks ok, sort of like Pretzel Jack from CHANNEL ZERO, but with less contortion and a mouth that moves, but doesn’t talk.

Somewhere inside of THE JACK IN THE BOX is a decent genre story. There was a lot of potential this film could tap into. It’s understandable that corners were cut due to the film’s small budget, but still, small budget doesn’t have to mean small ideas. I found THE JACK IN THE BOX lacking, mainly because there’s a lot of fun one could mine from its concept and the effort simply wasn’t made.