Self Reliance Review: Jake Johnson’s Directorial Debut Impresses

Self Reliance (2024).

Jake Johnson‘s directorial debut, Self Reliance, is a darkly comedic thriller that weaves an intriguing narrative around the modern obsession with reality television and the lengths one man goes to survive a deadly game. The film boasts a stellar cast led by Johnson himself, along with Anna Kendrick, Natalie Morales, Mary Holland, Emily Hampshire, Christopher Lloyd, and Wayne Brady. While it offers a unique premise and moments of genuine suspense, it struggles to maintain its tonal balance throughout its runtime, resulting in a mixed viewing experience.

The premise of Self Reliance is undeniably gripping: a disillusioned Tommy Walcott (Jake Johnson) finds himself thrust into a high-stakes reality game via a dark web invitation promising a chance to win a million dollars. The catch? Survive for 30 days while skilled hunters relentlessly pursue him. However, Tommy discovers a loophole: the hunters can only strike when he is alone. In a desperate bid to survive, he sets out to persuade everyone around him – friends, family, and even strangers – to stay by his side 24/7, blurring the line between reality and game.

The Good:

Jake Johnson’s portrayal of Tommy is both relatable and endearing. He effortlessly captures the character’s mix of panic, determination, and humor in the face of imminent danger. Anna Kendrick shines as Maddy, Tommy’s skeptical but supportive friend, providing a good balance to Johnson’s frenetic energy. Mary Holland delivers a standout performance as Amy, injecting quirky charm and genuine concern into her character.

The film’s strength lies in its exploration of the paranoia and tension that arise as Tommy desperately tries to convince others of the game’s reality. The plot cleverly navigates between moments of nail-biting suspense and comedic relief, keeping the audience engaged as Tommy’s relationships are put to the test. The dynamic between the characters, especially during their shared moments of vulnerability and camaraderie, is a highlight of the film.

The Bad:

However, Self Reliance struggles to maintain a consistent tone throughout its narrative. At times, the shifts between comedy and thriller elements feel abrupt, making it challenging to fully invest in the tension of the life-threatening situation. While the blend of genres is ambitious, the execution occasionally feels disjointed, hindering the film’s overall impact.

Additionally, some character arcs and subplots, particularly those involving Natalie Morales and Emily Hampshire’s characters, feel underdeveloped, leaving audiences craving more depth and resolution. Despite Christopher Lloyd and Wayne Brady’s brief but memorable appearances, their roles seem somewhat peripheral and underutilized, missing opportunities for more substantial contributions to the storyline.


The direction by Jake Johnson showcases promise. He displays a keen eye for framing suspenseful sequences and eliciting solid performances from the cast. The cinematography captures the gritty underbelly of Los Angeles excellently. It all enhances the film’s atmosphere and contributing to its sense of urgency and isolation.

Self Reliance is a commendable directorial debut for Jake Johnson. It features a talented ensemble cast and an engaging premise that toys with the blurred lines between reality and fiction. While the film succeeds in moments of tension and humor, it struggles to find a cohesive balance between its comedic and thriller elements. This can, sadly, occasionally undermine its impact. Despite its flaws, Self Reliance remains an entertaining watch. It offers a unique take on the perils of our voyeuristic culture and the lengths one will go to survive.

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Self Reliance Review: Jake Johnson's Directorial Debut Impresses
  • Acting - 8/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 7.5/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 7/10
  • Setting/Theme - 7/10
  • Watchability - 7/10
  • Rewatchability - 6/10
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About Caillou Pettis

Caillou Pettis is a professional film critic and journalist as well as the author of While You Sleep, The Inspiring World of Horror: The Movies That Influenced Generations, and co-author of Out of Time: True Paranormal Encounters. He has been writing in the entertainment industry for over seven and a half years professionally. Throughout the years, he has written articles for publications including Gold Derby, Exclaim!, CBR, Awards Radar, Awards Watch, Flickering Myth, BRWC, Starburst Magazine, Punch Drunk Critics, Mediaversity Reviews, Vinyl Chapters, Northern Transmissions, and Beats Per Minute.