VOD Review: Jackrabbit.
A sci-fi post apocalyptic thriller about a hacker and a corporate programmer trying to solve the riddle of a mutual friend’s suicide.
It’s the final quarter of the year, so I figured it was time to clean out my wish-list of VOD films from this year’s Coming Soon Trailers series. So many movies I wanted to see, but they either came out at silly price points (looking at you, High Rise) or they never seemed to be on the services I use. My first pick, from way back in March, is Jackrabbit, a technological thriller about a bombed out post-digital society. It’s available for free on Amazon Prime and it’s well worth your time.
An unspecified event (either a recurring solar flair or a cloud-burst atomic attack, if my arm chair science-ing is correct) has left mankind without any of its toys. A small tech company in Texas that specialized in old fashioned transistors was the only company capable of creating old school circuit boards, and has become the defacto government over Sector 6, apparently the only city/state left in America with power and technology. A code de-bugging phenom named Simon begins working for the mega company, only to find out that his friend (who moonlighted as a hacker) has been found dead. Making acquaintances with Max, another hacker, the pair try to discover the secret left behind in their friend’s encrypted computer.
All Players Ready
My first reaction to Jackrabbit was that the young and unknown cast were rock solid. Josh Caras, who plays Simon, was quiet and taciturn to begin with, but his character undergoes a metamorphosis as he learns the stakes in the game he is playing, and ultimately is very engaging. Ian Christopher Noel plays Max, and is intense throughout the piece, reminding me of Oscar Isaac in places. Joslyn Jensen is only in the film for a short piece, and her character suffers from Ophelia syndrome, but her performance was thoroughly enjoyable. The film has a small cast, and it helps that the three main characters are very watchable. I see them making some great films in the future.
The film has a slow-burn pace that can be slightly problematic at the beginning, but works to the film’s advantage as more is known about the two main leads. Just as each character seems to come to a roadblock, the film switches focus to the other, showing how each is working at the problem from opposite angles. Max is distrustful of everyone, and sometimes runs out of options, but Simon is able to supplement him with his connections inside the company and his own skills at decoding programs. When they meet Grace (Jensen), they are brought onto the same team, only to have tragedy pull them apart again. It’s intriguing to watch the dance, never getting a complete handle on if Max and Simon are actually on the same side.
I enjoy the retro synthesized soundtrack the film employs, in theory, but it is not used expertly. The music tends to crowd the action, overtly setting the scene instead of enhancing it. Like an old horror movie, it lets you know up front what type of situation you are in, but unlike modern horror films (like It Follows,) it never throws you a curve ball to keep you guessing. If the music is ominous, something bad is coming. If it’s subdued, you’re in for exposition. It takes away from the proceedings rather than enhancing it by being too predictable.
Jackrabbit is not flawless, but it is engrossing. The sci-fi element is a little vague and lets you know early that it is just a formality used to allow a modern movie to have a retro vibe. Some world building is done, but not much comes of it. Likewise, the antagonist (played by veteran actor Reed Birney) and his organization are not fully realized, being merely touchstones for a vague evil company that drives the drama. The sound work is not great, and the soundtrack makes the dialogue hard to parse in instances.
Besides the gripes, the movie is entertaining. It has enough thought provoking elements to keep you going, and the good performances make the middle parts of the movie enjoyable. The film really starts to shine towards the end, as you learn more about Max and Simon, and you see their relationship become a dance between two intellects who need each other but may not have each others best interest at heart. The final scenes are really strong, making me wish I didn’t know how much run-time was left. Jackrabbit is a film that could have gone on for another hour and I would have been totally on board.