By Don Simpson | January 9, 2012
Director: Mark Jackson
Writer: Mark Jackson
Starring: Joslyn Jensen, Ron Carrier, Darren Lenz, Brooke Bundy, Kristine Haruna Lee, Bob Sentinella, Piper Weiss
At 19 years of age, Joslyn (Joslyn Jensen) is barely out of high school. She tranquilly rides on a ferry, staring vacantly out through the window beside her. Eventually her attention drops to her Smartphone. Josyln arrives on an island and is driven to a secluded house eight miles from the nearest town by a friendly local man (Darren Lenz) who desperately wants to get to know his young and attractive passenger better. Josyln politely evades his advances and smartly provides him with the wrong address for her destination.
Joslyn has been hired to care for a catatonic old man (Ron Carrier) while his family goes on vacation. Frank’s upper-middle-class daughter and son-in-law thoroughly explain their OCD lifestyle that they expect Joslyn to also adhere to, and Joslyn politely nods along. Keep channel 354 (The Fishing Channel) on at all times; do not adjust the volume on the television; hand wash all knives, do not place them in the dishwasher; Frank likes to eat pears for lunch; do not drink the whiskey; blah, blah, blah… Luckily they have assembled a “bible” for Josyln’s dutiful reference.
Without internet or cell phone reception, Joslyn wallows in quiet isolation. A strict workout routine and a daily excursion into town for a small cup of chai seem to keep Joslyn sane, at least for a while. Joslyn unearths an old computer and dial-up modem with which she does her best to connect with whomever it is she is trying to contact. A collection of saved videos, photos and text messages on her Smartphone, even the clunky old desktop computer, form the illusion of lifeline for Joslyn.
Joslyn’s daily rituals begin to change and so does her mental state. Pieces of scenes are purposefully left out in order to echo the deterioration of Joslyn’s sanity. Things (including Frank) are not where Joslyn (or the audience) remember them last being left. There is something amiss, but what? Ghosts? Monsters? Stalkers? A dirty old man? A crazy young woman?
This masterfully realized, subtle character study by writer-director Mark Jackson discusses sexual longing, loneliness, confusion, anxiety, fear, frustration, desperation and sadness; yet nothing is spelled out or overtly explained, and the line between reality and nightmare is completely blurred. Joslyn Jensen apparently understands Jackson’s method, turning in one of the most understated cinematic performances of recent memory. Jensen’s subdued portrayal of her character’s crumbling psyche barely registers on any scale. There are no freaked-out frenzies or bawling breakdowns, she has no expository dialogue to rely upon; it is almost as if she telepathically conveys Joslyn’s inner turmoil to us. Jackson and Jensen provide plenty of breadcrumbs to reward any steadfast viewers in the audience; but, in all honesty, less committed viewers will probably be rendered irrevocably bored or perplexed.
There is something incredibly creepy about Without, as Jackson relies upon certain horror film conventions to retain a constant state of tension. (As with Sophia Takal’s Green, we are never quite sure if and when the story is going to disintegrate into a horrific bloodbath.) The sinister atmospheres born of Jessica Dimmock and Diego Garcia’s gorgeous cinematography are complimented rather nicely by Eric Strausser’s sound design. Keeping with Jackson’s narrative style, subtlety reigns and the details of the audio and visual design are communicated at nearly subliminal levels. Without is a story that truly revels in the inherent audio and visual qualities of cinema; there is no other medium that could possibly convey the intricate layers of emotional qualities that Jackson is studiously able to unravel.