Forgotten Fridays: Jennifer Eight

Thanks for checking out our Forgotten Fridays feature. This is a feature to review some older films that maybe you have forgotten about or maybe never got around to seeing that we just want to share. They may not be old, maybe not forgotten, but they are not new. Just fun to share.

Today, we review Jennifer Eight

Written and Directed by: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Andy Garcia, Uma Thuman, John Malkovich and Lance Henriksen
Released: November 6, 1992

When the police discover a dead woman in a garbage landfill, one of them, a newly transferred Josh Berlin (Garcia) believes that she is the latest victim of an unsolved string of serial murders. Since the victims IDs are not known, the police nickname them “Jennifers”. However, as Berlin digs deeper into the case, he finds that there may have been a witness to the latest killing. The only problem is that potential witness, Helena (Thurman) is blind, and thus considered unreliable. The killer, on the other hand, does not see it that way. Berlin’s determination to keep the cases active also have a downside, as he himself becomes a suspect after another officer winds up dead.

All of the actors give fine performances, not one character is wasted. Everyone serves a purpose. But it should clearly be pointed out that each performance is enhanced a great deal as a result of the cinematography by Conrad Hall.. The overall look of the film has low-key lighting. Helena may be blind,but as the film progresses, we ourselves may as well be. Throughout the entire film, scenes are underlit, even when they take place on Christmas Eve. Characters also have to move around in dark places or in thick, visually impaired weather conditions. The killer uses this to his advantage, which in turn turns up the tension level. The only light we see is the light available, and sometimes all that is is a flashlight or two. All the rest is negative space.

Christopher Young’s score in the film is one of his best the composer has ever done. There is a great scene in where Berlin goes into a building which we have been around in the day, but at night it’s another ballgame. Listen to the music as the character probes around looking for the suspect, you’ll hear what I mean. The score enhances the film’s effectiveness by leaps and bounds.

I have said that not one character is wasted and everyone has a purpose. That’s true. It’s also true that one character, an FBI played by John Malkovich, helps eat up a lot of screen time which proposes the plot twist of Berlin becoming a possible suspect in his own case. The scenes work and Malkovich chews up his scenes with authority. There’s even a minute where he literally, in a chair, slowly circles the other actor like a shark going in for a kill. Malkovich is mesmorizing. But this diversion takes a long spell in the film. I get the idea that even if we, the audience know there’s no possible way Berlin could be the killer, it is the idea of having a drawn out detour and then a roadblock for the protagonist that is effective. We also don’t buy the possibility of the FBI investigator-interrogator being the killer either. Considering the chronological chain of events, it is smart to introduce this character at this time. In and of itself it isn’t a terrible bit in the film. But when the point is made, it outstays the welcome.

While I didn’t mind the ending, I can, in retrospect, understand why the film didn’t quite connect with audiences when first released. Aside from the disappointing reveal on what the killer’s day job is (I tend to find these surprises not that surprising, but cliché) there is the universal story problem where said killer is stopped- but not by either lead. It is a nice twist but unsatisfying. Audiences would expect that either Helena herself could trick the killer and defend herself or that Berlin would stop the killer. I’m not suggesting the ending is “bad”, it’s just “disappointing”. Another good film to compare this to is Michael Apted’s thriller “Blink”, released the following year. That film had some similarities, (it also deals with a blind witness only she ‘sees’ the killer after getting eye surgery) but that ending had more punch because it opts more for a traditional antagonist-protagonist showdown. Here’s a question to be asked about “Jennifer’s” ending. Whose story is it? It could be Berlin’s, whose walking through dark places and low visibility suggest that he could be the one to square off against his foe. It could be Helena’s, who is living in darkness. The film decides to rob us of this. It walks a fine line in becoming one of those pictures whose endings dismantle the entire film. It didn’t, but it came dangerously close.

“Jennifer 8” is a tight, well shot moody thriller that draws you in with the story, characters and photography. There is one slow, yet effective subplot regarding the suspicion of Berlin as a suspect himself, but the actors involved keep it going. You even wish there was more Malchovich. I think this is a great, underrated film to study for the writing and cinematography.

Since all of these Forgotten Friday reviews are going to be what I would already give a high rating to, I had a Tv, Rent or Buy scale going on, but it would seem that an overwhelming majority of my picks get a BUY rating.

So with every Forgotten Friday you see from now on, you get to rate your anticipation for yourself!

TV If you are at least a little curious, catch it if it comes on TV.
Rent If it is something you have heard of and forgotten, or just remember enjoying this as much as I did once upon a time, go rent it.
Buy But if you are like me, and you agree with my review you should go buy it. If its featured here, I already have.

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"Revenge is sweet and not fattening." Alfred Hitchcock

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