Sunday, April 27, 2008

IFFB 2008: Jetsam

Not much time to post before running out the door again - just time to note that Jetsam is playing again at 10pm tonight, and is pretty decent. It's certainly worth a look for fans of The Descent (and, really, who isn't?), since it features two of the lead actresses in rather different roles, which is part of the fun.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2008 at Somerville Theater #4 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Jetsam certainly opens with a nifty hook - a man and a woman have apparently washed up on the seashore. She checks to see that she still has a USB drive and then looks for him, but he is not happy to see her, to say the least. They both break for a stone church in the distance. What is going on here?

We soon get some clues - the film flashes back to the woman, calling herself Rachel (Alex Reid), returning to her new boyfriend's apartment after her morning run. Jack (Cal Macaninch) is working on something top-secret - so much so that he handcuffs his laptop to his wrist for the commute - and he really should be more careful, because Rachel is going through his stuff as soon as he's out of sight. She's working with her real boyfriend Kemp (Jamie Draven), the man from the beach. Unbeknownst to Kemp, Jack, and Rachel, Jack's employers have hired their own security detail, including hard-nosed chief Bevan (Adam Shaw) and a woman assigned to keep a particularly close eye on Rachel (Shauna Macdonald).

A great deal of this film is about sleight-of-hand and misdirection; filmmaker Simon Welsford gives us plenty of details about the tradecraft and the methods used to infiltrate and monitor the other sides. The information on the flash drive winds up being a MacGuffin in the classic Hitchcockian sense, in that its most important property is the lengths people will go to acquire it. Indeed, it's never quite clear just who the two sides are in this battle; the thieves don't seem to be nearly as ruthless as the people secretly protect Jack. Jack himself seems nice enough, but is the sort of absent-minded nerd who could very easily be working on something terrible and be so fascinated by the challenge of it that the moral implications don't register.

With the rightness and wrongness of the characters' goals so unknown, the movie lets us focus squarely on how the game affects the characters. The men are pretty straightforward: Cal Macaninch's Jack isn't quite odd enough to draw attention, but is so aware of his own intelligence that he can come off as a bit patronizing (even as he is naive in other things). Adam Shaw is icy as Bevan, the character most likely to draw a gun to solve a problem and with no qualms about either monitoring the situation without telling Jack that his girlfriend is a spy or pushing Grace to the point of breaking. Jamie Draven does a nice job of having Kemp break down over the course of the movie, increasingly paranoid that Rachel may be shifting alliances.

Alex Reid is the star of the show, though, and she's great here. She has to go from tough and resourceful to feeling over her head to being shattered when things start going to hell, and for the most part she has to do it while her character is immersing herself in her own role. It's a role that could be tough to get a handle on - she could very easily come across as just a blank - but Reid always makes it intriguing, and sympathetic even when she's doing questionable things. Shauna Macdonald doesn't show up until later, but makes a great impression in her limited time.

The film was made quickly for extremely little money, and it does show; unlike other productions at the festival shot and projected on HD video, this one does look more like television than a movie, with the exteriors looking a bit washed out and the camera work sometimes looking somewhat shaky. The structure of the story is ambitious, and Welsford doesn't always set the right pace; toward the end, when we should be caught up in the action and everything being explained, I was occasionally noticing that we hadn't been back to the beach for a while.

That just mean that Welsford has more of a future as a writer than a director; his story is well-built, at the very least. Or that he just may need a bigger budget to work with. Jetsam doesn't quite meet its potential, but it certainly shows a great deal.

Also on EFC.

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