On the positive side, the unobtrusive camera allows the viewer to bear mute witness to the day-to-day operations of the mall and its employees. The shop owners and retail clerks arrive early in the morning and prepare their stores for the day, all too aware that the prospect of a day’s profit is unlikely, and their stores will, for the most part, remain empty.
On the negative side, nothing much happens. Yes, it’s tragic and presumptively indicative of a global state of economic affairs that the mall is in desperate trouble, but the movie never dives deeply into how this crisis impacts the people whose lives are tethered to the mall for economic or social purposes. The proprietor of the jewelry repair shop in the mall states that his meager sales are simply not enough to earn a living. As a result, he moves his shop to another, presumably cheaper, location. Makes sense, sure, but it’s not revelatory.
“…it’s tragic and presumptively indicative of a global state of economic affairs…”
Possibly attempting to weave a tableau of the Jasper community (maybe they realize that their film is not as interesting as they’d hoped), Thomason and Whitcomb introduce a pair of high school sweethearts who speak to the difficulties they’ve endured from area residents resulting from their interracial romance. Nice, but what the hell does this have to do with the story of the declining state of the Jasper Mall? The storyline feels as though it has drifted in from another movie altogether.
The directors also return periodically to a quartet of elderly men who gather in the mall to play dominos. I suppose this is to illustrate the sense of community that the mall represents for the people of Jasper. Yet, Thomason and Whitcomb never get the men’s thoughts on the declining state of their home-away-from-home. How do these guys feel about the fact that one day in the not-too-distant future, they will no longer have their heretofore-stable place to play dominos? We never find out.
When all is said and done, Jasper Mall shows us the crime scene outline of a once-great and thriving mall that is now on the precipice of collapse. The movie is basically a cinematic representation of watching helplessly as a loved one in a nursing home tragically succumbs to the ravages of old age. Now, that is depressing.
Jasper Mall screened at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival.