Actors: Brinke Stevens, James Barrett, Jocelyn Padilla, Ryan Boudreau, Nicole Lasala, Rob Roy
Synopsis: A group of teens resurrect the murdered Jonah, and he's out for revenge.
Luis Carvalho, a man known for his work in the sound department as a recordist on Silence, as well as editing the short film Dead Hearts, had recently introduced the world to his writing and directing chops with the horror/thriller, Jonah Lives. The film, produced by LuGar Films, had a meager one hundred thousand dollar budget, and was filmed in Fall River, Massachusetts. The first screening of the film took place in July of 2012, but it wouldn't be until 2015 that it would finally make its way onto store shelves, courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing. Promising a tale of revenge through "a rude spiritual awakening", the film has garned a decent amount of praise, most notably for it's atmosphere, something Fangoria had particularly noted, and happens to be slapped on the back of the DVD case. But is this as good a supernatural vengeance flick, or is it far less than mediocre?
The main concept of Jonah Lives is your basic supernatural story line we've all seen time and time again. A group of teens (who all look like they're in their late twenties to mid-thirties) are bored one night and hang out in the basement while their parents party upstairs. One gets the idea to break out a Ouija board, and all but one are willing to play along. There they come into contact with a spirit named Honaj, which they learn is backwards for Jonah. Despite protests from one to stop, eventually left to break them of their possession, the group continue to speak with the spirit, and eventually beckon him to come to them. This causes the body of Jonah to rise from the grave and lurk through the basement, picking them off one by one as they try to escape.
While the fundamentals are basic enough, Jonah Lives really destroys any potential it has early on. While using the ouija board, the group learns Jonah was poisoned by his wife, who you automatically assume (and are not proven wrong) is one of the ladies upstairs. The main problem is that Jonah is killing the kids downstairs. Instead of seeking revenge, he is poised to kill off those who summoned him, even the one that's not directly involved in waking him from his eternal slumber, or maybe her child from the first marriage. Both are ruled out pretty much right after the first death. It seems as though, despite being able to open the door to get into said basement, move fairly well, even swing a baseball bat with enough force to bash people's head in, he's not able to go upstairs and get revenge against the woman who killed him. Even when he is actually upstairs later on, he just comes back down and continues his assault, not to mention becomes the undead version of the pixelized ball in Pong, which was absolutely hysterical to watch. It did, however, lead to a scene where one teen's arm is cut off, and instead of using a slow motion effect, the two just moved slow, making the scene even more hilarious to where I literally threw myself into an asthma attack laughing at how poorly executed it was.
That visual choice aside, the biggest flaw of this film is the poor writing. The story really has no purpose. One could argue he's just trying to kill the woman's child, as I pointed out earlier. The thing is that it's never established if that child is down there, which one it is, or if she ever had a kid in the first place. Jonah is just roaming the hall, able to climb stairs, and picking off these kids instead of the adults that are much easier prey due to being drunk, high, or just out of their mind from all the pills they popped, not to mention also seem to be aware of what this woman did to some degree. Even the young sister upstairs could have been a good point of tension, perhaps leaving someone to try to stop him from killing her and pushing her as a possible survivor. Instead she's left alone, sleeping off the pills her mother slips her in a glass of water, further proving how badly you want to see them all die.
On top of that, the dialogue is horrible. Sometimes it feels like you are watching a real life interpretation of Beavis and Butt-Head, full of unfunny jokes and fart gags that even the worst of the Troma Productions library would be caught using. One of the teens starts jumping around like he is possessed, only to be tackled, held down, and let out a long winded fart that was even less funny than that intentional pun. It does, however, match the visuals quite well, as this whole thing just looks, feels, and eve sounds like a bad, vulgar episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark, perhaps suited for late night airtime on their Teen Nick channel, given how simplistic the writing is, the many loopholes in the tale, and the quick ending the feels like any sort of conjured monster story from that series, all without the charm that made that series so enjoyable.
Even the acting and score is on par with that shortlived anthology series. Not a single person in this film is able to act their way out of a paper bag, which is actually one of the saving points to the film. It's so atrocious that you will find yourself laughing at the dreadful line delivery and reactions on display constantly no matter how hard you try to take this film seriously. This sets in the only reason you hope certain people survive. Nothing about any of them, save the younger sister upstairs, is a redeemable trait that makes them worth saving, just how badly they are acting and the amusement you are receiving from how terrible their skill at depicting any sort of emotion in a way that doesn't seem like they're reading lines for the first time, perhaps being handed to them through cue cards. That's not even counting the assisting synth score that sounds like it came out of the aforementioned television show, dialogue that sounds as though it was dubbed (though it doesn't seem like it was), as well as matching angles. The main difference is that the camera pretty much never stops jittering around, as if the person holding it was filming during a bad seizure, or had the weakest upper body strength in recorded history.
As mentioned, you will hate every single person here. Each one of these characters, from the adults to the the youngest after the little sister upstairs who you genuinely feel bad for living with such terrible terrible people, leaves you begging for Jonah to just outright kill them all. Especially when the script starts telling the ladies involved to treat Jonah with vampire rules. Yes, you read that right. Jonah disappears and it is suggested they wait to leave until day, because that will somehow be safer. On top of that, another gives up and gives in to Jonah, who then bites her neck and laps up her blood like a vampire, then tears the flesh away. Yes, original vampire lore suggests them as being more like zombies than what Hollywood has shoved down our throats, but given the shambling, we're clearly not following those rules."
Finally, it seems as though nobody can walk in this movie either. Nearly every person who dies at the hands of Jonah does so after falling or tripping, then not being able to get up despite having plenty of time and room between he/she and Jonah to do so. Instead they slowly crawl on their hands and knees, or their side pending the situation, to escape death. It all just seems like poor direction in an effort to build tension for these characters we just want to see die, whereas a swifter death would have been better over bad acting and incompetence. In fact, had this been done with the gore level increased, the film could have been saved by being marketable to the gorehounds in the audience. Much of the film following a death left me seeing shades of Autopsy as far as some of the over-the-top blood loss went, but, for whatever reason, as if trying to still remain in that Are You Afraid of the Dark world, that very envelope is never pushed, making the progression all the more irritable and boring.
However, to give credit where it's due with this film, the make-up for Jonah is actually pretty good. Given the way his ex-wife talks about him, it seems his death was actually fairly recent, so the level of decomposition is about what one might expect, though his face does come through in more of a Freddy Kreuger manner than that of an actual decaying corpse. The hazy eyes are a nice touch as well, though his movements do kind of contradict the idea that, if the eyes were to stay intact all the time, he is starting to go blind from being inanimate for so long. That said, for a low budget flick such as this, his appearance is pretty impressive, and one of the few redeeming traits this movie actually has going for it.
The premise for Jonah Lives is something that almost any writer with two brain cells to run together can at least attach a generic story to. However, that's not what writer/director Luis Carvalho (Night of the Damned) gives us. Instead we're presented something that seems like a terrible mash-up of a Are You Afraid of the Dark tale with the humor of Beavis and Butt-Head, with the restricted environments identical to Mold (another of Wild Eye Releasing's distributed titled), but with a zombie in a modern basement instead of a biochemical weapon in the eighties. All but one character is terrible and makes you root for Jonah to kill every single one of them (which is not what a good movie should have you doing), the acting is absolutely wretched, the damn camera rarely ever stops shaking, the score is laughable, and even the ending doesn't make any sense eve though it does what should have been done minutes after Jonah wakes up, really. I'm also still confused as to just who this film was meant to be sold to. Is it geared towards foul-mouthed kids, low-brow adults, gore fiends, or, better yet, nobody? Jonah Lives is an absolutely painful experience that is only worth watching for the bad acting and zombie make-up, but even those two reasons can't put this movie into the "so bad it's good" category.
Review originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review.