Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Web Series Review: Jacob (2015)

In many regards, the online format is ideal for the horror genre, and Kristopher Stoltz, the writer and director behind this web series completely gets this idea. Jacob web series opens up as a story about an ambitious and somewhat distraught young filmmaker leaving his parent’s home to live on his own. As he settles in his new apparent and starts to prepare for a career as a police video editor, he chooses to document his experiences in a vlog form.

It is right in the first episode that Stoltz sets the pace of a hybrid horror genre that combines the found footage approach with “hell-editing” that simultaneously presents Jacob’s vantage point, but also the perspective of an entity called Ben, which stalks him and edits his films with its own cryptic messages and disturbing montages. As the story unfolds, Jacob’s life begins to unravel as he wakes up in unknown locations, suffers from attacks that are neither real nor imaginary and desperately tries to figure out who or what is Ben.

Like most horror tales without a huge budget, Jacob web series suffers from an imbalance between ambition and realization. As a concept, the story is full of potential and manages to build its lore in a very elegant fashion, using items like the mysterious book that arrives at Jacob’s house. On the other hand, the presentation of the story is often very lacking in quality and tempo, which is mostly seen in the main actors who plays Jacob.

The actor presenting Jacob (credited only as Pappas) often provides a flat performance in which he is clearly focused on delivering his lines, not emotions. When he does present some feelings, it mostly comes off as a mild sense of irritation, which is usually completely off in regards to the tormented character of Jacob. It is completely natural that this type of production cannot easily hire professional actors, but it should still try to compensate with smaller talking parts and a more compact range of emotional states that the actors need to convey.

The same notion shows up in cinematography and editing as well. The series fails to realize which shots are good and worth focusing on, and which shots are not so great. This provides a chopped viewing experience, where the Ben’s perspective often ends up being just irritating, especially because of the sound effects. Here, Stoltz went overboard and disrupted the story with the horror interruptions which come off as a film student’s fascination with different recording settings on his family’s vacation camcorder.

However, in spite of these things, Jacob web series still has something really interesting deep down inside of its story. In some ways, it reminds me of the horror gem Banshee Chapter, which, like the character of the Fisherman, uses the right bait. In the last, 7th episode, this notion has its strongest showing, where better production standards (an introduction of an HD camera, if I’m not mistaken), combined with a simple setup of a menacing dialogue between Ben and the Fisherman, provide the best episode so far.

From here, Jacob web series has a chance of developing a really engaging horror tale, especially if it plans on introducing new characters and explaining what happened to Jacob and Ben over the course of previous episodes. With a more measured approach to the hallucinogenic horror sequences and a bit more traditional cinematography, Jacob web series could be a really interesting series for any horror fan.

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