To Jennifer takes a slightly different approach to the found footage genre of horror that is all the rage these days. Rather than being shown something that was discovered after the fact, we get to witness the movie's protagonist film himself during a journey that only he knows the destination to. Director James Cullen Bressack capably sets up the film's central conflict in the first few minutes and caps off the whole affair with a suitably tense climax. Unfortunately, that's only about 15 minutes out of a 75 minute film. The hour in the middle just feels like padding…repetitive, annoying padding.
As I mentioned, the film's conflict is simplicity itself. Joey (Chuck Pappas) thinks his girlfriend of two years, Jennifer (Jessica Cameron), is cheating on him but he wants to catch her in the act. He ropes in his cousin, Steven (Bressack himself), to accompany him on the cross-country trip to her place and play camera man for the ultimate shaming and everything leading up to it. When their attempt at flying to her ends with Joey in the hospital (and on a no-fly list) after a nervous breakdown, they enlist flaky pal Martin (Jody Barton) to drive them. If anybody thinks that this road trip has a happy ending, let me remind them: this is a horror movie.
This film's marketing partially revolves around the fact that it was the first movie to be shot, edited and distributed on the iPhone 5. While that is certainly impressive from a technical standpoint, the real achievement here is that Bressack figured out a way to make the found footage aspect of the whole enterprise feel both essential and natural. Joey's decision to bust Jennifer is shown to be of the spur-of-the-moment variety. In a situation like that, it makes sense that he'd use the only video camera that everyone has on their person at any given moment: his phone. By putting Steven in charge of the filming process, we are also guaranteed to catch every little moment no matter how embarrassing or damaging they are to Joey. The climax is still problematic since I argue nobody would keep filming under the circumstances presented but it's the sort of quibble that only bothered me after everything was said and done.
Given that the film successfully cracks the found footage conceit that often trips up more mainstream productions, it is tragic to see it stumble by having nothing of substance to hang on its clever hook. Almost immediately after giving Joey and Steven a sense of purpose, the film has them stuck in the mud and spinning their wheels. After Joey's in-flight freak-out (partially brought on by Steven's prickish behavior) leaves them grounded, they just hang out with Martin. They attend boring parties, try to pick up women and shoot the breeze. This is likely Bressack's attempt at naturalism but it is at odds with Joey's burning to desire to see Jennifer which he communicates pretty much every time he opens his mouth.
If you can get past the film's sluggish mid-section, you'll arrive at the climax which almost makes the whole thing worth your while. It is creepy and unsettling in ways that the buildup hints at but never reveals. Performances that felt too intense and over the top are suddenly right at home in truly disturbing fashion. This unnerving vibe carries through to the end credits which are worth sitting through just for the twisted little tune that plays over them. As I mentioned earlier, a quick setup followed by the devastating payoff of the final scenes would have made for a killer short film. By choosing to fill in the blanks, Bressack and his small crew of co-conspirators have actually worked to undo a great deal of the film's effectiveness. What could have been a quick jolt of OhNoTheyDidn't! turns into a muted ireallywishtheyhadn't.