Beginning with a horribly amateurish pre-titles sequence, all in one uninterrupted five-minute shot and designed to foreshadow the terror the viewer can subsequently expect, Kevin Greutert takes the tricks he learned as editor on the first five Saw films, and director on the subsequent two, and applies them to a genre he’s way behind the curve on rather than having helped create. Jackals isn’t as terrible as those first five minutes might suggest, but equally it has very little to add to a story that’s already been told better and often.
Claiming to be ‘Based on true events’, and set in the early 1980s, the film begins proper with the ‘rescue’ of teenaged Justin Sullivan from the clutches of the cult he’s fallen in with. Except dad Andrew and Jimmy Levine, the ex-marine hired to effect the snatch and to de-programme Justin afterwards, leave Justin’s friend alive at the scene – meaning that when the three men join up with wife Kathy, son Campbell and Justin’s girlfriend Samantha at Andrew’s cabin in the woods for Justin’s detoxification, the murder-happy cult aren’t far behind and – as you probably already guessed – a rather nasty siege ensues.
There’s a few minutes early on when Jackals suddenly picks up and starts to look promising; Stephen Dorff is oddly miscast as the deprogrammer, but still brings enough charisma to his character that for a while you think the film is heading into interesting territory. Levine’s tactics feel prepared and the main cast – including Johnathon Schaech and Deborah Kara Unger as the parents, and a capable Ben Sullivan as Justin – are all very good. But the cult turns up way, way too early (even in a running time several minutes shy of eighty minutes), and the stand-off begins before we have time to really care about any of the family.
Thereafter the trajectory is all very familiar, even if Jared Rivet’s script and Greutert’s direction manage to keep us guessing exactly who’s going to get what and when – and the ending, while jarring if you’re expecting a resolution one way or the other – is quite neatly played. There’s a lot of hand-wringing first, though, and the dialogue is neither snappy nor sharp enough to keep the viewer involved in the Sullivan’s plight.
It’s also murkily shot, so while it’s framed and edited cleanly enough that you’re never lost for what’s going on, it feels like a really well-made home movie – and that can’t have been the plan. Greutert just about manages to wring some tension out of the last half an hour, mainly thanks to the actors he’s assembled, but only the lowest of expectations will make this worth passing your time over.
REVIEW: JACKALS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: KEVIN GREUTERT / SCREENPLAY: JARED RIVET / STARRING: STEPHEN DORFF, JOHNATHON SCHAECH, DEBORAH KARA UNGER, BEN SULLIVAN, CHELSEA RICKETTS, NICK ROUX / RELEASE DATE: 25TH JUNE