What Jack Built

Rated: Not Rated

        Once in a while, when it comes time for me to review a film, I sit down at the computer and stare at the blank page, cursor flashing away, and nothing comes to me. It’s not that the film I intend on writing about is bad or anything like that. On the contrary, usually in these cases the film is really good.
        Such was the case for the 2015 short
What Jack Built. It took me a long time to find anything to say about the film. I had to watch it several times and really think about it all. As I mentioned, it’s not that the film is bad; in fact it’s really good.
        The film is an interesting one. Its focus is on Jack as he builds a contraption to catch a mystery creature, but with no dialogue as guidance much of the film is a mystery until the very end.
What Jack Built is not a totally silent film though. There is music playing throughout, and some very selective sound effects.
        That’s one thing I found very unique about the whole thing: that only certain sounds came through. For example, at several points in the film Jack lights a cigarillo, but the sound of the zippo as he strikes it is absent. But then, when Jack breaks out the power tools we are able to hear the drill, and the screws boring their way through plywood. I’m not entirely sure why the choice was made to omit certain sounds and not others, but it’s a very interesting effect.
Timothy J. Cox as Jack in What Jack Built (Photo courtesy of Timothy J. Cox)

Timothy J. Cox as Jack in What Jack Built (Photo courtesy of Timothy J. Cox)

        But selective sound effects are not the only trick filmmaker Matthew Mahler had up his sleeve. Since there was no dialogue to move the story along, there was greater emphasis on visual aspects of the film. At first, shots of Jack walking through the woods to scout locations to set up the contraption seem like just that: Jack walking through the woods;  but then there’s a shot peaking around a tree from a distance, that gives the feeling that something is watching Jack and waiting to pounce. Anticipation quickly builds as you’re left to wonder what will happen next.
        Another key aspect of telling a story in this way lies on the actor chosen to portray Jack. Timothy J. Cox was masterful in the way he depicted Jack’s thoughts and emotions wordlessly. It’s easy to imagine what Jack is feeling and thinking throughout the film, from his thoughtful concentration while building the contraption, to his confusion and fear upon realizing that the creature is closer than he thinks. Not every actor could pull off such a role, but Cox did splendidly.
What Jack Built is a superb example of the ingenuity and originality indie filmmakers possess. Ross Mahler has created an imaginative and ambitious little film that most wouldn’t dare make, and he did so in a way that can be easily understood by anyone. You may be left with more questions than answers after watching, but you should certainly see this film if the opportunity arises!

What Jack Built is not rated, was written by Ross and Matthew Mahler, was directed by Matthew Mahler and stars Timothy J. Cox. More information about the film, the Mahlers and Timothy J. Cox can be found here:

  • What Jack Built on IMDB
  • Matthew Mahler on IMDB
  • Timothy J. Cox on IMDB