Directed and co-written by Matthew Mahler (the other scribe on the project was Ross Mahler) and starring Timothy J. Cox What Jack Built is a one man show. This could have been called “A Man and His Box” as it really does feel that this silent protagonist is alone in this world except for his “creation.” It could also be classed as a silent film, in as much as Cox’s character Jack, never really says anything.
There are the odd murmurings as he builds his project and a few satisfied sighs of containment when things go right, but not one word of dialogue, narration or any type of voice-over (as in allowing the audience to “hear” Jack’s thoughts) exists. There is a sound track, with aptly fitting music and sound effects.
Jack (Cox) is building something. At first glance, he seems to be a live version of Wallace sans Gromit. An inventor of some sort, he even keeps his outside coat on hanger which he can pull on a slide, and his workshop (Home?) is chock a block with equipment, tools and and cigars.
The music seems to indicate a science fiction feel to the proceedings, as though this were set in the future. Once the builder leaves his lair, the music changes to a different theme as thought the sic-fi element has been left behind and Jack enjoys the outdoors.
As Jack manufactures his “box,” going over his blueprints and excitedly putting everything together it appears that this trap he is building is not a survival thing at all. When he has put the finishing touches on his box, he sets the bait (a tape recording that has been turned on inside the box) and head back to his shop to watch the proceedings. He seems more excited at the outcome, not like a hunter at all.
Lighting another cigar and popping open a tin of drink, Jack sits on a wheel chair and waits.
What Jack Built feels like a homage to both I am Legend (faintly) and The Evil Dead. With a feel of “the last man standing,” or in this case building, and the slower “evil dead” touch, this is a fascinating short film to watch.
Timothy J. Cox plays Jack as a man consumed with one task and while he is focussed on the matter at hand, he still loves a good cigar. Cox keeps the viewer’s interest throughout as they wonder why he is so intent on building this thing and what he hopes to snare.
The end result of this character’s labors return an unexpected result and by the time the film ends, we fear that Jack may have gotten much more than he expected. At under 12 minutes the time flies by and it can be watched repeatedly allowing new things to be discovered in the movie.
Like any great work of fiction, and stand-up comedians, at the end the viewer wants more. Mahler has edited the film tightly and his storyline almost mesmerizes. Mahler also shot his own film, as well as edited it, and this Rodriguez approach works perfectly.
There are great touches in the film. For instance the vice that Jack grabs the partly-smoked cigar from is blackened on top. This vice has been the character’s cigar holder for some time. There are other touches like this in the film and this is obviously down to John Heerlein.
Perhaps the only complaint focusses around the cigars. Whether by accident or on purpose, as Jack smokes through a succession of stogies they change in diameter. The first one is quite fat compared to the later ones he smokes. As the film progresses these cigars get thinner and thinner.
Is this a message? It feels like is should be although the meaning is not clear.
This is a cracking bit of short cinema. The lighting is spot on and the set dressing is perfect. The viewer believes in this verse almost effortlessly. Cox proves that he can single handedly carry a film with ease. His “Jack” is fascinating and the viewer wants to see what he is building, early in the movie, and then wants to know what happens after the end.
What Jack Built is Mahler’s fifth short film and it impresses, entertains and leaves the viewer asking questions after it finishes . This is a five star effort and well worth the time spent watching. A compelling bit of film. Catch it if you can.