Saturday, September 27, 2008

#46: Jack Be Nimble (Garth Maxwell, 1993)

This interesting, obscure New Zealand film stars a pre-female Alexis Arquette and the late jazz drummer/actor Bruno Lawrence, and should probably enjoy a much larger cult reputation. It has several midnight-movie ingredients:
1) A heavily stylized, hallucinatory, yet formally consistent tone
2) Psychic telepathy
3) A weird metal box with flashing lights that hypnotizes anyone who stares at it
4) Weird murders
5) Teen angst
6) The New Zealand equivalent of Southern Gothic
7) Four creepy sisters who move in unison and never speak, whose appearances bear distinct similarities to the female followers of Charles Manson

Jack Be Nimble begins with two young siblings watching their mother have a nervous breakdown. She abandons the children, and they get adopted by two separate families. The sister winds up in the home of a loving, middle-class couple, while poor young Alexis lands in the creepy backwoods shack of a sadistic, hateful farm couple and their weirdo daughters, the aforementioned four creepy sisters. All grown up now, the sister (Sarah Smuts-Kennedy) hears voices in her head that hint at the location of her brother and starts a relationship with fellow psychic Bruno Lawrence. Lawrence's character is that rarest breed in a horror film, an asshole who is not secretly evil. He's just an asshole. Meanwhile, Arquette's adoptive father whips him with barbed wire and tells him he's never allowed to leave the farm. Arquette promptly shows the family the weird metal hypno-box, does some nasty things to the mother and father, but unwisely spares the weird sisters. He flees the farm and reunites with his sister. The happy, and vaguely creepily incestuous, reunion is short-lived, however. Arquette is a little too messed up by his upbringing to forgive and forget, and the weird sisters go on a murderous rampage of their own, in search of him.
Jack Be Nimble is a hard film to love. The stylization is intentionally claustrophobic, and a little humor could have tempered the unrelentingly bleak tone. However, I admired the film's consistent, focused style, unusual story, and avoidance of cliche. The four creepy sisters are awesome villains and my favorite part of the movie. (I couldn't find a decent picture of them.) Jack Be Nimble is definitely worth a look and should be better known.

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