It happens to every film critic. Every once in a while a reviewer watches a movie that gives them pause. Not because it's bad or good, but because it falls dead-centre on the spectrum. This isn't to be confused with neutrality—a film that fails to elicit any emotional response. What I mean is, every now and again we'll see a movie that engages us emotionally but suffers from some technological shortcomings. Jake's Road is one such film.
After surviving a harrowing ordeal, Chris wakes up in hospital. Not long after he regains consciousness, he's interrogated about what happened. Chris recalls that it started with Sam and the viewer is transported back in time, to when Sam and his girlfriend Kay arrive at “the camp.”
The camp is Sam's family's cabin, a house in the woods where he and his friends gather for weekend cookouts. This weekend Sam is returning to the cabin after a too-long absence to reconcile with his brother and make plans for the future. The whole gang is there, longtime friends who are delighted to see Sam and meet Kay. Revelry and good times turn bad when a camouflaged killer emerges from the woods and begins dispatching Sam's friends.
Written & Directed by
Eric Roberts, Garrett Hines, Leticia Jimenez
23 September 2014
Rachel's Grade: B
The press materials describe Jake's Road as a twisty mystery, a winding plot full of surprises. That's over-selling it a bit, but I will say this: this movie surprised me. In more ways than one. In truth, my first guess about the killer was dead wrong, and that made me happy. This revelation is then followed by a hard cut and things are a bit jumbled for a few minutes. But the fact of the matter is Jake's Road manages to pull off a minor coup.
Am I now over-selling it? Possibly. But I've seen so many uninspired low-budget movies that I've come to expect very little from them. I'm pleased to report that Jake's Road invests a great deal of effort into its characters and story. Does it take too long to get going? Yes. Could it have been better paced? Absolutely. But I had grown to really like Sam and his friends, and I believed in their friendship. Which is to say I felt sorry for them when they died. That kind of sympathy is rare in horror today.
Jake's Road is far from perfect—the camerawork is a touch problematic and there are a couple of sound glitches—but writer-director Mike Mayhall has a sense of what he's doing. For instance, an awkward set-up for a joke doesn't really pay off later on in the movie, but the effort was made and it shows that Mayhall has the kind of foresight that befits a suspense writer.
The film does a good job working around its lack of effects. A low budget means a handful of digital blood effects, bit of real fake blood, and some clever editing. A small budget is no excuse for a bad movie, and Jake's Road understands this better than most.