Without (Mark Jackson, 2011)

Without opens with a gorgeous silhouette shot of a girl on a train. It’s an image that eventually bookends the film, but by then, your perception on the whole picture has taken a turn. That’s because virtually everything in between is a complete disappointment. Without’s appeal is largely superficial one; it’s nice to look at. I suppose I could applaud Mark Jackson for deviating from expectations. But there are those who deviate from expectations to create something truly insightful and poignant; then there’s Mark Jackson’s film, which says nothing.

Without’s premise focuses on how Josyln (Joslyn Jensen) moves to a remote area where she serves as caretaker for an elderly man who lives in a vegetative state. The principle ideas are in place for an effective thriller-type film, and Jackson flirts with the idea throughout. But he also mixes in a crudely-constructed lesbian love story, an ill-conceived flirtation with a handyman, an unconvincing descent into insanity, and desperate attempts to have an internet connection that ultimately results in a sexual reawakening. If Jackson had gone in a specific direction, then the whole film could have been salvaged, but as it is, it simply meanders from side-story to side-story.

Joslyn Jensen manages to salvage bits and pieces of the film; films that focus on an unstable mental case with a splash of gratuitous nudity just seem to work. But honestly, she’s nothing to fuss about – she gives a serviceable performance throughout, even when the material she is working with becomes increasingly silly. And boy, does it get silly! We move from one scene of poignancy (Jensen gives a rather impressive acoustic performance of a Black Eyed Peas song) to perplexing detours into sexual exploration and teasing a man in a vegetative state. It’s not dark humor – it's pathetic attempts at shock horror and schlock humor. There isn’t any artistic merit or symbolic resonance to the proceedings; we’re simply witnessing a series of vignettes into randomness.

The film ends on a dull note, attempting to wring dark humor into the happenings, and it subsequently fails at that too. The only message one can derive from the film in its bookend conclusion is that girls really need the internet, lest they go insane. I suppose Without would work as a double feature with the excellent Take Shelter; it’ll give people an example of how one should and shouldn’t go about making a film about insanity.

Rating: 3/10