REVIEW – ‘WITHOUT’ (BRADFORD FILM FESTIVAL)
Mark Jackson’s minimalist debut is a brave first feature, forcing us to confront the indignity of old age. Accompanied by the equally thought-provoking short, The World Turns by Nick Ray Rutter, Without makes for powerful viewing, painfully observing the effects of grief and immortality.
Nineteen year-old Joslyn takes a summer job staying in a remote house looking after Frank (Ron Carrier), an elderly man in a vegetative state. Left alone in the house for a few days without any phone signal or internet connection, she struggles to cope with the loneliness and boredom of her monotonous daily routines.
The couple employing Joslyn leave and return with little else happening but somehow Without demands attention – like Joslyn we’re waiting for something to happen. Jackson tantalises us with intriguing hinters to a tragic past, suggestions there’s a link between Frank’s ex lover and Joslyn’s, mysterious snippets of a text message conversation and the appearance of an enormous scar. Joslyn’s belief there’s someone else in the house and the local handyman’s unrelenting pursuit of her also act as signposts that Without will end badly.
Although the film is far from easy viewing with a particularly uncomfortable masturbation scene, Jackson peppers Without with light humour using fleeting outside interactions with a pharmacist and poking fun at his lead family’s peculiarities. When Joslyn is first introduced to Frank, she’s told to put the fishing channel on and “set [Frank] up in front of it”, leaving her without the option of escapist television. Frank’s daughter and son-in-law run their house using a “bible” of house rules, including maximum TV volume levels. They are “disturbed” and disappointed” by comically petty things, making the film’s neat ending all the more surprising and satisfying.
Complementing its title, Without opens with close-ups of a depressed looking Joslyn and uses amplified sound effects to emphasise how quiet her environment is. Like Jackson, musician Joslyn Jensen makes her film debut playing Joslyn. Even when interacting with others, Jensen is always the focus, making hers a particularly demanding role. Considering her lack of acting experience, her performance is quite remarkable, ably managing to keep viewers engaged throughout.
Review by Leo Owen.