Josie & Jack opens with a flashback to the lead characters’ childhoods; Josie standing on the doorstep, awaiting the return of her brother Jack, having been escorted away by the police after running away from home. The home he is returning to is dark and decrepit, haunted by the family history contained within and casting a shadow over the siblings. Flash forward some time later and the siblings are all grown up, the house now acting as their prison with their drunken and abusive father, the siblings’ warden and teacher (both are home-schooled), poisoning their minds with delusions of grandeur. After a dinner party celebrating the father goes awry, Josie and Jack run away from home only to be chased by the ghosts in their past.
If the synopsis above sounds like you may have heard it before, it’s probably because you have. Playing it safe on her directorial debut, Sarah Lancaster – known mostly for her acting career before this – takes a fairly paint by numbers approach to the material, meandering through the plot in exactly the way you would expect, from a familiar start through to its predictable end.
Seemingly taking tips from the filmmakers’ playbook, everything you’ve come to expect from the genre is put on show. A muted colour palette is used to set the scene, nonplus dialogue giving soulless depth to its characters and even the overly extreme ending are all put to use here, to really drill home that you are watching a tragic psychological drama. The result is a production that feels so much like American Psycho and Seven, I half expected to see a business card in a box by the end of it.
Despite issues with the story however, the cast give surprisingly rounded performances. Olivia DeJonge and Alex Neustaedter are fine in the lead roles with DeJonge giving an effectively muted performance as Josie while Neustaedter’s Jack descends into villainy. Frustratingly, William Fichtner’s drunken father figure is kept solely to the opening act, a despicably venomous presence that is sorely lost throughout the rest of the movie’s run time. When all 3 are on screen together, you get a sense of a family unit rotten to its core, perfect for the story it wants to tell but let down by an overly cautious screenplay.
Unfortunately for Josie & Jack, fear of breaking the mould and trying something different is its downfall, falling flat by thinking its twists and turns were something the audience wouldn’t see coming. It’s undoing is unfortunately reminding us of far better films, a mistake it never recovers from.
Josie & Jack is now available on digital