Revenge And Creepy Stepsisters: ‘Jack Be Nimble’ Reviewed

Early in Garth Maxwell’s Jack Be Nimble, Jack and Dora’s mom (Patricia Phillips) turns on a record of a fairy tale where a little girl has to run away from a giant. It won’t be the last reference to fairy tales in this movie, but it does raise the question why this film was named after a nursery rhyme. Jack and the Beanstalk would’ve been a more obvious choice, or jack in the box, since that’s the toy Jack is always shown playing with as a child (as an adult Jack’s played by Alexis Arquette), or even Hansel and Gretel, since Jack’s relationship with his sister, Dora (Sarah Smuts-Kennedy), is so central to the story. Hansel and Gretel never had to be separated, though, and when Dora and Jack are adopted by different families that’s exactly what happens to them in Jack Be Nimble.

Dora’s family ends up being alright, but Jack’s childhood is a nightmare – and it should be mentioned here, how great the casting is in this movie. It’s one thing to hire actors to play young Jack and Dora (rather than go the ageing make-up route), but Jack Be Nimble has a slew of actors, playing Jack and Dora at different ages. That can’t have been easy – finding young actors who can act and also be passed off as the same person on an indie film budget. Some of those ages don’t last long onscreen, either, but it adds so much momentum to the first third of the movie, where Jack and Dora are forced to grow up apart.

It’s Dora who figures out a way to find Jack, but after her first attempt fails, Dora’s reaction to  finding her brother the second try sets the tone for their reunion. Up until then, it seemed like a given that Dora and Jack reuniting could only be positive, but the moment Dora hesitates to get out of the car, is the moment Jack Be Nimble starts to ask the tough questions, like what if what’s good for one sibling is bad for the other, and what if love can’t quell Jack’s taste for revenge?

Having endured so much abuse as a child, Jack is understandably angry and plays with fire the same way Jack in the nursery rhyme does. Nursery rhymes repeat, though, so there’s no real danger. Eventually Jack Be Nimble‘s Jack will get burned.

Full of ambiguous touches, that allow the film to introduce supernatural elements (like psychic abilities) without any fanfare. Jack Be Nimble also uses a rich visual language where Jack’s stepsisters are rendered creepy for always traveling as a mob. Filmed in New Zealand, this gothic fairy tale is for anyone who likes 90’s films like The Passion of Darkly Noon.

Bonus Features:

Along with two of Maxwell’s short films, the strongest bonus feature on Altered Innocence’s release isn’t fancy (Maxwell talks directly to the camera) but involves the director discussing his influences while pulling out different photos and art samples. There’s also an interview between Maxwell and film critic, Dominic Corry, and a commentary with Maxwell, Smuts-Kennedy, and some other members of the cast and crew. Carried over from an earlier DVD release, it could’ve used a mediator to ask questions and direct the conversation.

More on Maxwell’s shorts:

Naughty Little Peeptoe” is a documentary short about Maxwell’s friend Doug George, whose effervescent personality powers this film, which is basically a recording of George talking about his love of shoes and career over new visuals directed by Maxwell and Peter Wells.

Maxwell returns to the subject of siblings in “Beyond Gravity,” a 50-minute short about a young man named Richard (Robert Pollack) who lives with his sister, Billie (Lucy Sheehan). Mostly, though, “Beyond Gravity” is about the romance that develops between Richard and a guy (Iain Rea) he meets-cute at the library. The music in this film can be misleading, in that it telegraphs tragedy (Keith Ballantyne and Wayne Laird are credited for the music).

Jack Be Nimble is available on Blu-Ray now from Altered Innocence.

Early in Garth Maxwell’s Jack Be Nimble, Jack and Dora’s mom (Patricia Phillips) turns on a record of a fairyCOMICONRead More

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