The Games Get Darker in The Jack in the Box: Awakening (2022)
Title: The Jack in the Box: Awakening
First Non-Festival Release: January 3, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Lawrence Fowler
Writer: Lawrence Fowler
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Starring: Matt McClure, Mollie Hindle, Nicola Wright
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Dying matriarch Olga Marsdale (Nicola Wright) is cared for by her doting son Edgar (Matt McClure) who harbors a dark past. Aided by their hired hands housekeeper Janet (Michaela Longden), chef Frank (Jason Farries), and newcomer Amy (Mollie Hindle), the sweeping mansion runs like clockwork to keep Olga alive. Olga, however, has a plan for prolonging her life. It involves a mysterious jack in the box that contains a horrific demon that will grant one wish in exchange for six souls. The Marsdales will stop at nothing to ensure that Olga overcomes her aggressive cancer, even if that means killing the innocent people they employ.
The Jack in the Box: Awakening improves the formula marginally thanks to some creepy sequences and decent production values.
While the story is still rather generic, the backstory behind the demon gets deeper than what the first entry in this British franchise. The explanation doesn’t quite match up thanks to some choice words, but it is still good silly fun. The setup to get to the demon slaughtering still feels contrived, much like its predecessor. However large the mansion is, it cannot be that easy to hide the screaming, blood, and carnage that would be necessary to keep the Marsdales’ secret. Going further, the pacing of the deaths feels off. Why would the demon stave off murdering certain people or commit itself to only one a day? Of course, it is for the film, but these questions make it difficult to take it seriously.
The performances are standard for low budget indie fare. Bright spot Matt McClure sells his Norman Bates-esque Edgar as one slimy yet pathetic antagonist willing to do whatever it takes to earn his mother’s love. McClure goes a bit over the top every now and then but overall delivers a solid performance. He stands out from the rest as someone attempting to do more than the bare minimum.
Edgar is the most interesting of the characters and truthfully acts as a better protagonist than new girl Amy. Throughout the film, Edgar experiences a wide range of emotions from jealousy, fear, delight, insolence, and resignment. His dark past coupled with his determination to please Olga makes for an exceptionally interesting force to complement the actual demon. Olga is a bit too cartoonish in her thirst for a longer life while Amy and the rest of the would-be sacrifices are too flat and have little substance to them.
There are a few key points to hint when describing the flaws of this low budget slasher. It gets quite expository without trusting the audience to get the gist of the story. It isn’t complicated, so why does the writing suggest the opposite? This franchise is known for its restraint. With a bit punchier pacing, or even variation in action, this could be a much more exciting feature. Another weak spot of the film is its distinct lack of gore. For a supernatural slasher, there is a need for some creative or interesting sequences. Unfortunately, it does not happen here. What is shown is fine, but it gets quite repetitive to see the same throat slash sequence done over multiple times.
A few good shots elevate the film beyond standard low budget films. One static camera angle focused on Amy in a cellar while the lights flicker and the demon creeps in is an excellent example of a solid frame. It is standard within the genre, but it is especially well-done in this instance. Its solid production values help The Jack in the Box: Awakening achieve its creepy vision in brief spurts.
Slight improvements on the first film make The Jack in the Box: Awakening a little bit less mundane and generic. Painstakingly slow pacing, uneven performances, and unsure direction kill whatever tension does build throughout the film. Thankfully, a few well-constructed sequences and overall decent production values save the film from total boredom. It is difficult to create a new slasher icon, much less one that is truly scary. The Jack in the Box franchise may still be way off base, but the established lore gives it plenty of breathing room to figure out its next set of sacrifices.
Overall Score? 4.5/10