Written and directed by Lawrence Fowler, when a vintage Jack-in-the-box is opened by a dying woman, she enters into a deal with the demon within that would see her illness cured in return for helping it claim six innocent victims. Starring: Matt McClure, James Swanton, Mollie Hindle, Nicola Wright, Michaela Longden, Jason Farries, Victor Mellors, Erina Mashate, Nicholas Anscombe and Melvyn Rawlinson.
B-grade horror movies of today are a typical trick or treat mix, some of them are going to work for you and some of them aren’t, but it’s always worth trying because they might surprise you, like this one. While potentially expecting something more schlocky, The Jack in the Box: Awakening instead brings an opening that’s genuinely solid, atmospheric and uses a light hand to set the tone. It harks back to 2016’s The Boy, an underappreciated horror flick, with its grand setting and immediately foreboding fate lingering in the background. Its score (by Christoph Allerstorfer) doesn’t overplay its hand, as so many often do, and the opening performances from Matt McClure and Nicola Wright are similarly just subtle enough to push everything in the right direction.
That’s not to say it goes perfectly smoothly down the road, there are a fair few bumps but it says plenty to why you shouldn’t easily dismiss this film. What follows is a lot of nods to classic tropes of horror cinema, and classic horror films themselves, particularly in the way that the story progresses. As well as employing the timeless horror tradition of a disturbing and unhealthy mother-son relationship, although it feels more akin to Bates Motel than Psycho. It also avoids a typical pitfall of similar films by not progressing its characters persona along with their story, in this case its journey of McClure’s Edgar is almost pitch perfect. It could have more than easily derailed the latter half of the film in a poor attempt to build sympathy but instead it embraces the darkness. Helped by McClure’s performance which never goes overboard, which again is something that so easily could have happened in any other film, he has a touch of the melodramatic but never too much.
It does however fall slightly on the side of giving its monster too much screen time, less is always more when using the audience’s imagination to enhance fear and terror. Although, to its credit the work that went into creating the titular creature’s haunting visual is well done. However, the special effects and use of violence feel fairly inconsistent, it doesn’t go for all out gore but it has its sporadic moments, which don’t have a huge amount to add with them being so infrequent. It does also lose some of its steam heading into the big finale, it builds to its peak too quickly and can’t sustain that energy all the way to the finish line.
The Jack in the Box: Awakening is a film not to be quickly dismissed, it may not have a wholly original story to add to the mix but it’s an entertaining and enjoyable watch for horror fans. It plays out like a classic horror flick but with a bit more blood, and it does well to not go overboard, which sounds simple but is something a lot have struggled with. It has its faults but it’s more than worth giving a chance for some easy evening entertainment.