By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2020 12:58PM
The Jack in the Box
Directed by Lawrence Fowler
High Fliers Films
Antique and vintage toys are awful. They’re all painted wood and cracked porcelain and not a Transformer in sight. And of all the vintage toys, the jack-in-the-box is definitely the wost. Its not a toy, its a jump-scare machine.
You crank the handle, a cheap mechanism mangles Pop Goes the Weasel and then BAM! Face full of creepy ugly clown. Just the worst. Unless the box houses an evil demon, in which case it’s much more fun.
The Jack in the Box is the latest horror film for Northampton’s Up A Notch Productions, written and directed by Lawrence Fowler. When Casey (Ethan Taylor) turns up for his first day of work at a museum in a stately home, he and new colleague Lisa (Lucy-Jane Quinlan) discover an antique jack-in-the-box with a deadly secret – the clown is a demon, and once freed it’ll prey on all around it unless Casey can find a way to stop it.
Two things are apparent right away. Firstly, that this is was shot on a low budget. Secondly, that Fowler won’t let a little thing like that get in the way of making a good film. Every penny was put to good use – this film looks great. It’s slick, it’s creepy, and it uses its limitations to great effect. Shot mostly on location at Abington Park Museum, the setting works great as the demon’s hunting grounds as victims get trapped in dark rooms and twisting stairways. It’s lit perfectly, and Fowler ramps the tension up in most of the right places. In fact, in its direction I’d say The Jack in the Box is head and shoulders above its peers and even rivals some of the lower-end mainstream horror fare.
The special effects are also really well done. The box itself is remarkably creepy, and the way it moves to reveal its handle is very much like a Hellraiser puzzlebox and the clown inside is, as many characters remark, absolutely hideous. In the best way, of course! Jack looks much scarier once he’s out of the box, of course. What looks at first glance to be a standard clown mask is, on closer inspection, a really effective creature effect considering the budget.
A lot of low budget films have shaky acting, but almost everyone here is great. Taylor and Quinlan work well together, with the latter stealing her scenes with an effortless realism, making up for her character not having much to do until near the end. But the real standout is Robert Nairne as Jack. He cuts an imposing figure as he stalks his prey, walking like Doug Jones and generally have a whale of a time. He gives the monster a sense of genuine glee that’s fun to watch.
There are some bum notes, inevitably. The story’s a little basic and predictable, but no less fun for that. The pacing’s a little rushed at the beginning too, but it settles down and learns to take its time. At the beginning there’s over-reliance on slow-motion montages with people speaking silent as the music plays over it – once would be ok, but twice in one act is a bit much, especially as the music is what lets the film down the most. It’s too… earnest? Overwrought? I’m not sure how to describe it, but it’s trying too hard and could do with being a tad more subtle. It makes the film feel cheesier than it needs to be, which is a shame as all the other aspects of the film don’t need to work as hard to be effective.
In all, this is a very fun film. If you’re looking for so-bad-it’s-good low budget flick then you may want to look elsewhere, as this is a genuinely good horror film to be enjoyed unironically. It’s a hard genre to pull off cheaply, as evidenced by all the poor attempts out there, but Lawrence Fowler does it with ease. Can’t wait to see what’s next!