DVD Review: ‘Jonah Lives’

Writer-director Luis Carvalho opts for a grab-bag approach to the horror genre in Jonah Lives — the title character of which is a kind of zombie-cum-demon-cum-slasher — but, like so many who try their hands at horror, he gets way too bogged down in an excruciatingly dull and irritating group of characters. I’m not sure why Carvalho felt we needed to spend quite so much time with these singularly irritating massholes, but unfortunately we scarcely leave their collective company until about halfway through the movie, when they start getting picked off one by one. This is too bad because when his characters stop talking, Carvalho does show a bit of stylistic panache.

The aforementioned group consists of six high school friends (4 boys, 2 girls) who while away the hours in the basement of their self-appointed leader, Francis (Ryan Boudreau). They seem to spend most of their time arguing with one another and speaking crudely about sex. To leaven the boredom (theirs and ours), Francis breaks out the Ouija board, much to the chagrin of Tony (James Barrett) who whines that his friends shouldn’t play with “devil shit.” But play they do, and they soon contact Jonah, whom they summon from the dead. This, you will probably not be surprised to learn, turns out to be a mistake. Jonah, a kind of lone zombie made up with a pleasantly rubbery mask, soon shows up in their basement ready to kill them all.

Jonah Lives unfortunately bears all the hallmarks of low-budget horror filmmaking — the stilted acting, poor dialogue, inconsistent visuals (color correction seems to appear out of nowhere halfway through the movie), lack of suspense, and dragging pace. These kids seem to diddle around with their Ouija board forever before anything interesting starts happening. But when Jonah shows up, Carvalho proves that he has studied the classics, and he develops a couple scenes, such as Jonah’s triumphant rise from the grave, with an old-school horror flair. The score also has a nice Carpenterian synth thing going on, which helps things considerably. The kills, though, are pretty disappointing and sometimes visually incoherent. In one case, we get death-by-asthma-attack, which, I admit, is definitely a new one on me, but maybe there’s a reason no one’s tried that before.

Jonah Lives does have an endearing oddness around the edges, particularly in its frequent cuts to a strange party Francis’s parents are throwing upstairs and in a very baffling scene between Francis and his sister. In its most stylistic moments, most of which take place during a slow-motion final battle that features lots of cross-cutting to closeups of eyeballs, Jonah Lives even captures a bit of the abstracted weirdness of a giallo. Unfortunately such moments are too few and far between to recommend Jonah Lives to any but the most forgiving of horror fans.jonah

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