Sunday, June 02, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #2: THE JACKET (2005)

The Story: An Iraq War veteran suffers memory problems that lead to his incarceration in a mental institution.  While incarcerated, he undergoes experimental sensory deprivation treatment that apparently allows him to travel into the future.

Expectations: I can't remember how I first heard about this film, but I was immediately surprised that I hadn't heard about it sooner.  THE JACKET is a mind-bending science fiction film distributed by Section Eight Productions, the home of Steven Soderberg and George Clooney, featuring an impressive lineup of respectable character actors: Adrien Brody, Kiera Knightly, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, Kelly Lynch and Brad Renfro.  As if that's not enough, the film also boasts an original score by Brian Eno.  Sign me up. 

Reaction: This film initially reminded me of JACOB'S LADDER.  That's not a bad thing, because I love JACOB'S LADDER.  In the "making of" documentary on the DVD, screenwriter Massy Tadjedin says that the original screenplay even revolved around a Vietnam veteran (like JACOB'S LADDER), but the story was eventually updated for a more contemporary audience.  Tadjedin says that she also had to streamline the story, because the original 160-page script had "enough material for five movies."  That's not hard to imagine... THE JACKET still seems pretty dense, and more than a bit schizophrenic.

Just as the setup reminds me of JACOB'S LADDER, the second act reminds me a lot of ALTERED STATES (sensory deprivation experiments leading to some kind of super-natural experience).  Again, not necessarily a bad thing, because I love ALTERED STATES.  But by this point, I'm eager for something new.  How, I wondered, is the storyteller going to tie all of these heady TWILIGHT ZONE-type scenarios together?  ALTERED STATES and JACOB'S LADDER are both incredibly ambitious films that use science fiction and horror tropes to prompt the viewer to question our sense of reality.  In the end, THE JACKET uses them mainly as a setup for a love story.  Color me disappointed.

In all fairness, I should say that Adrien Brody and Kiera Knightly are both compelling actors, and I don't mind watching them.  (I should also note that Knightly also starred in one of the best non-horror horror films I've seen in a while... an underrated indie called NEVER LET ME GO.)  But still I came away from this film feeling mostly confused and underwhelmed.  In the final analysis, the science fiction seemed like a crutch, and the love story seemed like a forced attempt at deeper meaning.  Despite all the streamlining, it seems as if the filmmakers are still torn between at least two different movies.  That said, THE JACKET is destined to collapse under its own weight.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: The sensory deprivation chamber sequences are genuinely unsettling... but this really isn't a horror movie.  (Don't believe the tagline... Terror doesn't have a new name.)  That said, it does cast a spell -- mainly because Brody and Knightly seem genuinely haunted.  Hard lives have turned their characters into ghosts, but great acting makes these ghosts real.  I only wish that their salvation didn't seem so gimmicky.  The characters deserved a more cohesive story.


  1. Great to see the new set of films in this series, Joe.

  2. Thanks, Michael! The horror content of my blood was getting low...