What Jack Built (Short)
Matthew Mahler’s “What Jack Built” is a one-man show, certainly on the screen, and to a large degree, off. Yes, Mahler collaborated with his father Ross (who also produced) on the screenplay, and had a propmaster in John Heerlein, but Matthew not only cut the movie, but also wrote it’s evocative (though somewhat overbearingly, loudly mixed) score, and (I’m guessing) shot the movie himself. That’s a lot of hats, and not easy to pull off (I speak from experience), but Mahler does quite well, the aforementioned score mix notwithstanding. In front of the screen, he has character actor Timothy Cox as Jack, who is building something in what looks like a shed in the woods. What is this thing? A trap. For what? We never quite get an idea, although it’s certainly large enough to intimidate Jack into going through the effort he goes through in creating his complex, very low-tech, trap. “What Jack Built” is, simply, the unfolding of a situation, with Cox playing Jack as a man possessed, and obsessed. Every little thing has to be right, and you get the impression that this has been in the making for some time. Mahler lets Jack’s creation remain a mystery for most of the film (which is silent with the exception of the music), and one of the things I enjoyed was trying to figure out not only the purpose, but how everything we see fits into the final product. The details such as the video cameras and their old-school time signatures are a nice touch that add to the impression of this almost being “found footage,” although thankfully, sparing us the necessity of figuring out how Jack is operating the camera on himself. (This is more like “first person” rather than “found footage.”) I will admit to be a bit disappointed to not find out what the target of Jack’s obsession was, but that is more a minor personal annoyance than something that diminishes the film itself. The film itself is a simple, engaging treat of a short film that has more suspense than a lot of feature films can muster.