GORE IN THE STORE
THE JACK IN THE BOX: AWAKENING **
Directed by Lawrence Fowler.
Starring Matt McClure, Mollie Hindle, James Swanton, Nicola Wright.
Horror, UK, 93 mins, Cert 15.
Released in the UK on digital and DVD by 4Digital Media on January 3rd 2022
What’s the worst thing you opened this Christmas? Hideous socks? £5 W HS mith’s voucher? 2022 Cliff Richard calendar? Well, whatever it was, there’s something far worse hiding inside the cursed box that’s opened in this low budget British chiller; a chittering demon clown creature that will gouge your eyes out and then drag you back to its unholy domain. And, in case that wasn’t already scary enough, he’s also French.
It’s HELLRAISER meets DEAL OR NO DEAL when filthy rich elderly heiress, Olga Marsdale (Nicola Wright), dying of an incurable disease with only a month left to live, comes into possession of the titular antique jack in the box. It contains a demon that will grant its owner one wish after it is bequeathed six innocent souls. So, her devoted yet morally conflicted son Edgar (Matt McClure), whose devotion crosses the threshold from good lad to Norman Bates levels of creepy co-dependence, does what he must to ensure that his mother lives. Amy (Mollie Hindle), a young and innocent housekeeper who’s recently been hired, gets embroiled right in the thick of it as Edgar starts to bump off his staff and unlucky visitors.
This is a standalone sequel to director Lawrence Fowler’s 2019 THE JACK IN THE BOX, and Fowler is evidently hoping for an ANNABELLE type franchise for his creepy clown. I haven’t seen the original, but that’s not an issue for viewers of AWAKENING as it’s an entirely new story with the demon being the only recurring character. We also get a handy refresher on Jack’s origins mid-way through the film.
For the most part this is a reasonably entertaining, albeit predictable, small independent horror. It’s fairly well paced, not outstaying its welcome, with some fun ideas but sadly it never coalesces into an entirely satisfying whole.
This is partly down to the film’s ambitions outweighing its resources. It’s set in a grand country mansion but the interior shots resemble an upmarket seaside bed and breakfast. Ideally you need a sprawling staff of upstairs and downstairs characters to bump off but we get just three.
The acting is decent, although a tad community theatre at times, but the decision to make the Marsdales American when they are played by British actors was distracting since there’s nothing in the plot that necessitates them being from over the pond (and the film is all clearly set in the UK). I assume that it was a marketing consideration for American audiences, to stop it becoming too British, but the accents are occasionally shaky and so this becomes an unnecessary distraction. To be fair to the cast though, Benedict Cumberbatch can’t do a proper American accent either and that’s not stopped him from being in Marvel films.
On a positive note, the physical props of the sinister box and the puppet look genuinely fantastic and could slot right into an entry in THE CONJURING franchise without seeming out of place. There’s also a nice chess board with bears on it that makes an appearance (but unfortunately that isn’t important for the plot).
The design of Jack the demon, and his performance by James Swanton, is also mostly successful and fittingly unsettling apart from the odd decision to give him what look like trotters and the sound effects that accompany him that sound like velociraptors. Seeing a humanoid clown demon making dinosaur noises is confusing and not particularly scary. It would have been much more effective to leave him silent, as the visuals were doing a good enough job being creepy on their own.
One last bit of praise, the score is surprisingly good for this type of small-scale film, and this helps buoy the film up and set the mood effectively.
Overall, THE JACK IN THE BOX AWAKENING is better than it has any right to be, and for those wanting to support small British cinema with ideas and ambition (even if the execution does fall slightly short), you could do worse than giving this a watch.
Reviewed by John Upton.