We’re living in an era that has witnessed an unprecedented rapid expansion of technology. I can still remember using Napster in the early 2000s and waiting an entire afternoon for a single song to download. In less than a decade we’ve discarded MySpace (and Facebook could follow) for Snapchat and Instagram. The emergence of social media has coincided with an increased fixation on sharing and disclosing the minutiae of our everyday lives. We are the ‘selfie generation’, consumed with ‘likes’ and ‘follows’. And now we have the perfect horror film to go along with our Snapchat filters. Horror-comedy #FromJennifer, released in 2017, is a timely skewering of our Internet fame-obsessed society.
Jennifer is a struggling actress having a terrible week. She’s just lost an acting role, her ex-boyfriend has posted ‘revenge porn’ that’s gone viral, and her manager has dropped her because of her ‘sex tape’. Down on her luck, Jennifer decides to take a cue from an acting school colleague and increase her social media presence to boost her career. To attract ‘hits’, Jennifer devises a scheme to exact revenge on men who have posted ‘revenge’ porn. Armed with cameras to film every moment and assisted by a large, socially awkward hired helper, Jennifer’s best laid plans quickly run astray with bloody consequences.
Innovative Film-Making and the Indie Spirit
There is a special place in the hearts of horror fans for independent filmmakers trying something new. Some of the most beloved horror classics – Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, and Phantasm – were perfect examples of guerrilla film-making. They’re illustrations of those instances where creators took chances – with subject matter, casting, or film-making techniques. Director Frank Merle takes a chance in #FromJennifer, filming using only a handful of GoPro cameras. While Merle certainly isn’t the first filmmaker to use digital media technology for filming, the approach is well implemented. Merle’s approach feels like a necessary extension of the film’s themes rather than a gimmick.
It did take a while to adjust the filming approach in #FromJennifer. In addition, the use of the GoPro cameras does have some inadvertent effects on the film. Without some of the common cinematic editing, sound, and visual techniques we expect in horror films, there is a lack of tensions or scares. Near the midway point of the film the pacing felt a little sluggish. In contrast to some other horror comedy films, #FromJennifer was limited in how over-the-top it finale could go by its filming technique. These are minor quibbles offset by the film’s other strengths.
A Wicked Sense of Humour
#FromJennifer has a fun, quirky sense of humour that carries the film through any lulls and offsets the absence of conventional horror film techniques. Based on a screenplay by James Cullen Bressack and director Merle, the film’s characters and dialogue are sharply written and the premise offers something refreshing different for the genre. Without dropping any spoilers, the film’s conclusion was wickedly dark, funny, and unexpected.
It helps that the sparsely filmed #FromJennifer features a fun cast that aptly delivers the dark humour. Danielle Taddei plays Jennifer and delivers the perfect balance of naive earnestness and seething anger. In a nice touch of casting against type, Derek Mears (The Hills Have Eyes, Friday the 13th) plays Butch, Jennifer’s socially awkward hired helper who’s desperate to please. Both Taddei and Mears are required to carry the bulk of the film and they capably deliver fun performances that are weirdly endearing. Meghan Deanna Smith’s vapid, social media-obsessed Stephanie is an absolute scene-stealer. Horror fans will also be delighted by a small cameo appearance from Tony Todd (Candyman); his scenes are brief but another highlight.
Some Timely Social Commentary
Another strength of #FromJennifer are the themes that underlie its story and film-making approach. Our societal obsession with social media and Internet fame has been touched on in several other films and television shows. Merle and Cullen Bressack’s script does an equally good job satirizing the almost constant need to disclose, share, and brand ourselves. #FromJennifer may not reach the heights of Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” episode but it’s still a witty story delivered imaginatively.
The film’s focus on ‘revenge porn’ and gender inequities is also certainly timely. In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Jennifer’s observations on gender norms and double standards when it comes to sex and dating feel very spot on. Like the best horror films, #FromJennifer’s delivers some poignant social commentary along with its bloodletting and laughs.
A Film That Will Reward Your Patience
#FromJennifer may deter some viewers with its use of GoPro camera technology. This is not a conventional horror film and it does require some patience from its audience. Nonetheless, the acting performances, humour, and screenplay make it a worthwhile investment. While it’s not a perfect film by any measure, there’s some good social commentary in #FromJennifer that will feel poignant for many viewers.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B