Friday, July 19, 2013

JONAS

JONAS
Directed by: Adam Rehmeier
USA, 2013

I’ve been looking forward to this film, or should I perhaps call it, this experience, since early 2012 when Adam Rehmeier told me during our The Bunny Game interview that he was more or less done with Jonas – his next feature. A movie he told me was going to be completely different than The Bunny Game, something I’m still trying to decide if it is or not!
 
Made as a companion piece to The Bunny Game and shot with the exact same method as said movie – as in fully improvised, non-scripted and with a majority of cast non-professional actors - Jonas bookends a forever-incomplete trilogy. We will never be told what happened between The Bunny Game and Jonas, therefor our own sinister and profound darkness will fill in the blanks between what happened between the first time we saw Jonas [Gregg Gilmore] in the final shot of The Bunny Game and the opening shots of Jonas.

Six Verses present the character of Jonas, a man we are introduced to as he washes up on the beach after a frenetic and rapid montage of shots at the start of the piece. Possibly the rapid edits and almost black and white photography of the opening (although it is in color) are all that remain of the violent and visual style that was presented in The Bunny Game. From here on there will be no rapid bursts of cutaways and non-linear juxtaposition, but rather slow lingering shots of people talking, listening, feeling and being.

Early on Adam Rehmeier pointed out that Jonas would be the complete antithesis of The Bunny Game. A movie designed to be a palette-cleanser to be watched back to back with The Bunny Game with the intention of leveling the viewer out and bring hem back to normal after the intensity of The Bunny Game.
First off, yes, Jonas is possibly something of an opposite to The Bunny Game. Shot in color, it deals with religion, life and hope, where The Bunny Game dealt with quite the opposite. You never saw anyone eating a taco or enjoying the warmth of the sun on his or her face in The Bunny Game.

Grabbing the audiences attention and keeping them intrigued Jonas opens posing the question of who is this man and what has he done to end up here – there’s the imaginary gap between for you to fill in with whatever depravity you want – and this becomes a natural hook as I really want to know what’s going on, why did this happen and what’s this mission he’s on?

The goal of the story is much clearer with Jonas, from early on we are told about the illumination that Sunday dawn will bring, or at least as Jonas will believe will be presented. In The Bunny Game we never really know where it’s going to go (unless you notice those morgue slab frame edits early on) but we have an idea of how it will end. Jonas tells us his vision, his goal, his mission, his moment from the start. The Beach, Sunday Dawn, all roads lead there.

Where The Bunny Game was all about creating tension, Jonas is all about building expectation. The tension that drove The Bunny Game forth is here replaced here by expectation. I couldn’t take my eyes off The Bunny Game as I wanted to see just how tight Rehmeier could twist the tension, and I can’t take my eyes off Jonas as the expectations of what it will bring is tweaked with the same fingertip tuning tools that where used on The Bunny Game!

Rehmeier does this with a few, in all their simplicity, genius moves such as a fast cutaway to a knife on a table top during one encounter Jonas has, or like the first time Jonas meet’s resistance and is rejected by one of people he visits and the magnificent performance Gilmore gives as his world more or less comes colliding down around him. Rejection is a bitch, and as the film goes Jonas copes with it much better, but this initial one is strange to watch as it also makes me kind of empathetic towards Jonas! Here’ a man who appears to have been forgiven by some higher power, he has a mission in life, a goal to follow, he’s even set a date for the big day and he’s on his way… which intriguingly makes it engaging when he’s faced with rejection. It’s the eons old curiosity that makes me want to see where this will go, will Jonas succeed and to find that closure I need Jonas to stay clear of obstacles. But even Jonas learns from this encounter and continues to prey on the weak, which again makes him something of a calculation predator… or delusional… or simply a servant of God.

I find that there’s a constant threat present in the film, but I’m never really sure where or to whom the threat is posed – a very confusing and disorienting state of mind indeed. The tricks mentioned above tend to lean towards a threat to the people (some of them) that Jonas encounters, and some towards Jonas, which makes the positioning of antagonist/protagonist a curious one. It’s possible that insight into backstory and the knowledge that Jonas is a man of dubious value – after all this is the guy who picks up where Hog [Jeff F. Renfro] left off in The Bunny Game. I’ve always read The Bunny Game with the unseen death of Bunny [Rodleen Getsic] as I saw images of her on a morgue slab in some fast bursts of images early on in The Bunny Game. So Jonas most likely has some real heavy shit in in baggage. Hence the movie – as said earlier, it’s supposed to be watched back to back with The Bunny Game – starting with those really violent bursts of Gilmore with knife, screaming and lurking in the shadows shots before he’s washed ashore in the opening of Jonas. This gives us a chance to acknowledge his violent and dark backstory and interpret the metaphorical washing up on the shore (as in cleansing) – and changing of color codes, Jonas in The Bunny Game wore white, Jonas in Jonas wears black, as Jonas been giving a second chance. With this second chance comes the benefit of the doubt. Will he stay on his path to righteousness or is there a possibility that he will stray from it and fall back into former traits? Read that passage again with the image of the knife on the table in your head and the knowledge of Jonas killer backstory. See, it’s uncanny isn’t it!
Small details like the reversed footage (once on the beach and once riding the escalator) bring unease to the story, and again build a threat that I’m not quite sure how to interpret! All part of the mind-fuck, which Rehmeier and Gilmore are playing on the audience. Needles to say, Devin Sarno’s moody and brooding score, which flows throughout the entire piece, adds to the distraught feeling and underlying threat. I hope that Rehmeier releases this on some format as was done with the Rising Beast Recordings release of The Bunny Game score.

I actually find it kind off disturbing that there are only six verses when the narrative is lead forth with a day driven title card system. Each verse represents a day and therefore I’m expecting a Monday through Sunday system, so I find it kind of off key and disturbing that there isn’t a seventh, final verse. It’s a deliberate method to create unease with in the audience used by Rehmeier.


At the end of the day, it’s almost as if Rehmeier and Gilmore are questioning our beliefs and us the audience. What do we believe in and why? What where we expecting and why? This is possibly key to the last Verse, that Sunday dawn on the Venice Beach. What beliefs do you take with you there… and why?
A brief warning here as there may be possible spoilers ahead as I wrap up with a few thoughts on the finale to this intriguing and impressive piece of work. The last scene to Jonas is just as much mystery as the main body or work itself too. There’s really no limit to the amount of ways to read the climax, either as a lie, a truth, a revelation, a metaphor or even as a grand anti-climax, which ironically plays perfectly with the way that Rehmeier has built the movie and the expectations we read into the film.

Without banging the drum and conjuring up conventional genre imagery, Rehmeier has created a truly unnerving and curious ride that rappels through a range of emotions and stays captivating all the way through each and every Verse in the gospel of Jonas.

Re-watch The Bunny Game again, and get ready for Jonas, as he will be available soon at JONAS


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