Two filmmakers attempt to make the perfect sequel to "To Jennifer," however a dark secret threatens the lives of everyone involved. Jennifer, a beautiful actress, now has two options: become the heroine of the film, or face a brutal death.
June 3, 2016
James Cullen Bressack (characters), Hunter Johnson
Lara Jean Mummert
One of the things that’s so alluring about horror is that it’s a populist medium. Even without the swanky Hollywood budgets, an ambitious filmmaker can make their mark on the genre. It just takes blood, sweat, tears… actors willing to be your next victim. Wait, am I still talking about fiction? You know what serial killers and Hollywood directors have in common? They’re both sociopaths. At least, that’s the idea behind Hunter Johnson’s 2 Jennifer, based on the characters (and concept) created by James Cullen Bressack.
2 Jennifer is the sequel to the 2013 found footage film To Jennifer, both shot entirely on iPhones. Whether or not this democratization of technology will add anything new to a tired subgenre is anyone’s guess, but the approach is at least interesting in the context of this story.
A young man named Spencer, played by writer-director Hunter Johnson himself, flies out to Los Angeles to make a sequel to To Jennifer with a friend named Mack, (David Coupe). Spencer keeps insisting to Mack that 2 Jennifer needs to be the perfect sequel, right down to finding an actress named Jennifer to play “Jennifer”. After some highly unethical auditions, they find their Jennifer, (Lara Jean Mummert). This is the plot of the movie I’m explaining here, but it’s also the plot in the movie. It’s meta, man.
Any found footage film must inevitably be compared to The Blair Witch Project. The reason that film felt so fresh in 1999 was not because no one had ever thought of it before, although the viral marketing was new. It was because the found footage fit the deeper themes of the story. They were documentary filmmakers. They were voyeurs. Their undoing was the pathological need to “capture it on film”.
2 Jennifer succeeds for a lot of the same reasons, though not as easily. The iPhone is an extension of Spencer’s ego, his narcissism. There is no movie, just Spencer’s violent, sexual fantasies. The iPhone literally substitutes for his phallus, and therein lies one of my problems.
There are two ways to look at Johnson’s approach to Spencer when he is alone, confessing his dark, twisted fantasies to the iPhone. Is it a parody of psychos he’s seen in cheesy movies, or is this the real Spencer? The answer to that question is the difference between brilliance and bad acting. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure which. I just know these scenes don’t work. They’re too broad, too silly. But Johnson is much stronger in the scenes of social interaction, where Spencer desperately tries to act normal. You’re on pins and needles, knowing there will be hell to pay when he finally snaps.
Johnson is helped by two of the best actors in the film, David Coupe and Lara Jean Mummert. Coupe delivers the necessary peaks and valleys of a stressed movie producer, anxious to make deadlines and wrangle vain actors. Mummert is something different, a siren who simultaneously feeds Spencer’s power-trips and castrates them, all for an IMDb credit. They are innocents, but they are also opportunists in an opportunistic business. And these actors know how to play irony better than the director. I would say seventy percent of the horror in the movie is sold by them. I can’t speak highly enough about Mummert. Beguiling, sardonic, fierce. I just love her.
Many of the secondary performances are flat and presentational. Charles Chudabala as Mack’s roommate Charlie is particularly embarrassing. I realize he was given a broad, comic-relief role, but I didn’t believe a single word he said. He is a caricature, not a character. Bressack is great in his cameo as James, the director of the original To Jennifer that inspired Spencer. He plays a “bro” stereotype, a slob so shortsighted that he can’t see the horrific consequences of his work until it’s too late. When Spencer approaches James at a Hollywood party, it is a powder keg. Telling someone you’re their biggest fan never ends well in movies.
2 Jennifer is conceptually clever. It has a lot to say about sexism, casting couches, the misogyny of the “male gaze”. It’s just inconsistent in its execution. In one of the most sustained moments of tension, (the audition for the perfect Jennifer), we see Spencer prod, deconstruct, tenderize the various actresses like so much meat, just because they happen to share the same name. It’s disgusting, but it doesn’t go far enough. I can sense Johnson pulling back, afraid to commit to the tintype-God Spencer has become. It’s a shame, because all the actress playing “Jennifer” are great.
I hate to damn 2 Jennifer with faint praise. What works is riveting. Far more compelling than the typical “cheapie” fare we get from most horror movies with limited locations and small budgets. 2 Jennifer has big ideas, even if it doesn’t always bat home-runs. I think Hunter Johnson has room for improvement, but I’m also excited to see what he comes up with next. The movie was produced by LAHorror.com, the quintessential “little guy” in the industry. I give them a slow clap for their hutzpah. The horror genre is a populist medium after all. That’s why we love it.
2 Jennifer recently secured a distribution deal with Sector 5 Films, which means you should be able to find it on VOD/DVD and maybe the odd midnight screening here and there. I’d say give this one a go, although you will be nagged by your critical eye. The last scene is the most powerful. “I don’t want to be one of those actresses that gets naked all the time,” Jennifer tells Spencer. Tinsel Town has a nasty way of forcing people to do things they don’t want to do.