Film criticism is like telling a filmmaker his/her baby is ugly. Films are birthed from an idea and in most cases, that idea has deep personal meaning to everyone involved. My job is to tell a potential viewer how effectively the filmmaker communicated their concept on film and whether it’s worth the viewers time to see it. So, what do you think of my baby?
Suicide is a deeply personal subject for its surviving family members. And in Bobby Chase’s short Jacob: The Story of A Suicide Survivor, he lays out his feelings on film. His take is not only intensely personal, but his viewpoint is not the one you usually see in films about suicide.
Chase’s short opens with Bobby (Jack Boggan) in his car going through a series of unanswered voice messages. The first is a juvenile message from his older brother, Jake (John MacSchnurr), telling Bobby to take a break from “writing his stupid movie” and hang with him at a nearby party. Bobby explains how his brother has become something of a slacker in life. The next message is from his mother (Jennifer Lefsyk) worried that Jake has not been heard from in a while.
“Bobby…discovers that Jake has hung himself in the basement…”
Bobby then pulls into Jake’s home and discovers that Jake has hung himself in the basement, at which point Bobby states in voice-over, “I never knew what going into shock meant.” Bobby immediately runs out of the house and down a few doors to his grandmother’s (Angela Potrikus) house. He exclaims Jake is dead and they run back to deal with the situation. While grandma is freaking out, Bobby is the cool head in a fury of panic calling 911, but you immediately know the “cool head” is not exactly what Bobby is portraying. His conversation with 911 is somewhat callous and void of urgency.
I’ve seen hundreds of films where the go-to emotion is despair, anger, and profound sadness. Shock is the more interesting and more authentic response for writer/director Chase to document. Shock is a person refusing to deal with a traumatic situation. It’s often confused with being strong, but its really one’s refusal to face grief head-on.
There’s a certain courage when a filmmaker portrays himself in not the best light. Without getting too spoilery, the ending appears to be Chase coming to grips with his brother’s death and this film is his memorial. This is Bobby Chase’s story, and he’s laying his heart out there for you to see. That said you definitely feel the “shock” that Bobby is feeling. The only problem is that as the stranger watching Chase’s story, I wanted to slap Bobby across the face and tell him to get an effin’ emotion.
“…you may feel conflicted by the way it ends…conflicted is a good thing.”
Upon reflection, this negative feeling I felt comes in the form of “I wish the story showed more emotion” or “I wish he had done something different instead.” Ultimately, I wish Chase had told the story that I wanted to see and with a completely different ending. But he’s not telling my story, he’s telling his, and this is how Chase chose to personally face his brother’s suicide.
Now let’s shut off emotion and talk about the rest of the film. The acting is good. We’ve already discussed the story. I need to say something about the cinematography. The exterior shots are fantastic. Director of Photography AJ Henderson has some amazing drone shots. The film’s overall tone cinematically is dream-like, which subtly takes you out of the story, but maybe that was to the point to convey “shock.” There’s a sweeping drone shot following Bobby’s car, which is quite spectacular (for an indie film) and an equally fantastic aerial shot at the end. Lastly, Bobby’s run to his grandmother’s house and back is captured in a single shot and portrays a sense of urgency.
I think this review is officially longer than the short. The film is worth watching just to see a different take on suicide, and you may feel conflicted by the way it ends. In this case, “conflicted” is a good thing.
Jacob: The Story of A Suicide Survivor (2018) Written and directed by Bobby Chase. Starring Jack Boggan, Angela Potrikus, John Mac Schnurr, Jennifer Lefsyk.
7 out of 10 stars