By David Paul Hellings.
“A story of revenge from beyond the grave, centering on a group of teenagers who unknowingly supply the catalyst for the murdered Jonah’s return from the grave” in Writer/Director/Editor/Sound Editor/Producer Luis Carvalho’s debut feature.
According to the publicity, “Luis Carvalho was a boy with a dream. As a teenager, his ambition was to become a filmmaker, but life got in the way when he started a family and worked to support them. His goal was put on the back burner but never abandoned. Finally, after several false starts over some 30 years, his dream has been realized with “Jonah Lives”, on which he serves as director, writer, producer and editor”. During those thirty years, buying and reading a copy of “Screenplay” by Syd Field would have been a sound and wise investment, as would sharing the roles of production. Too many hyphens really do spoil the broth.
Made in 2012 and now seeing the public light of day, “Jonah Lives” is an example of the two choices facing a first time director: create something original and run the risk that it doesn’t get an audience and/or sell, or: make something that is a mess of every horror film you like, mix them together and hope it works. Carvalho sadly opted for the second choice, funded it seems by friends and family, none of whom clearly read the script objectively before filming, but most of whom ended up acting in or helping with the shoot.
“Jonah Lives” is a good example of a film in which the director/writer needed to take on board or ask for the opinion of other more objective friends or even, shock horror and perish the thought, actual professionals. It also shows why being too close to the material creates a clear lack of objectivity, especially in post-production.
Cliché ridden with shots and scenes stolen from better films, including “The Shining”, most of “The Evil Dead”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, “The Beyond” and any other Fulci, “Jonah Lives” has no idea of pacing or building the tension, allowing repetition to kill the momentum or any attempt at suspense. Characters that we don’t know or care about spout bland and continually repetitive dialogue, including countless “Oh, my God!” exclamations. Somebody really needed to say to the director cut the script or at least have a decent script editor go through it before shooting.
The younger cast tries their best as the group of friends who summon the dead “Jonah” (a mute Freddy Kruger lookalike who has a backstory that’s never built upon) via the age-old Ouija board in the basement (because using a Ouija board always has positive results, right?) Cue Jason rising from the grave (nicely done), who arrives to terrorize the friends (who oddly never seem like they’re actually friends).
Meanwhile there are awful performances by the older “actors” at the swingers party in the adjoining house – were they relatives/investors/both? – Either way they come across as amateurish or having wandered in from a failed David Lynch casting session. If Jonah should have killed anybody, it was them.
“Jonah Lives” is at least well shot and nicely scored (even if the soundtrack sounds like a low rate Simon Boswell or The Goblins).
Lucio Fulci was a director who figured “to hell with logic” in his storytelling, but at least gave the audience gore beyond belief, something Carvalho tries to resort to in the last twenty minutes, but with missed opportunities, it seems like far too little, far too late (at 93 minutes, it still feels at least 20 minutes too long, or 93 depending on how cynical you are).
Overall, you just think, “get on with it”. Films like “Cabin Fever” and the superior “Dead Snow” or “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil” showed that the best way to approach this corner of the genre now is to laugh at it. Sadly any laughs here were unintentional and through gritted teeth at a film that may have impressed friends and relatives, but committed the worst crime a filmmaker can: a boring film with no sense of plot logic. Why is the only character not to take part in the séance the first to die? To subvert audience expectation? If so, there’s a smart way to do it and this isn’t it. Why is one character suddenly seemingly in league with Jonah? Why is Jonah suddenly taking a bite when he was never set up as a zombie? There’s something called a through line, but in 30 years of dreaming, the director didn’t figure to look into that.
The script is a mess. A mixture of everything but the kitchen sink with no sense of real continuity, only emphasizing how bad the dialogue is. The second act meanders and there’s a sense that the director took on too much, either for control reasons because this was a pet project, or because he just wasn’t prepared to listen to any constructive objective feedback.
“Jonah Lives” is a disappointment, if well intentioned. Carvalho, if he gets another shot, needs to work with a decent scriptwriter and get somebody else to edit the finished result. His passion then may pay off.
One character asks: “My God, what have we done?” Made a bad film?
This review originally appeared on Haddonfield Horror: