This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn't exist.
Halloween has long been a time for scary movies, and the traditional ancient holiday of Samhain has given the world some tremendous movie monsters and psychopaths. Some have been testing humanity like Jigsaw, some are seemingly unhinged like Michael Myers. Others are demons or apparitions sent for revenge. As such, it is in that vein that director Colin Krawchuk and co-writer Michael Sheffield have attempted to create a new Halloween horror for the current generation in the form of The Jester.
The Jester, based on a short film of the same name, focuses on two estranged half-sisters, Jocelyn (Delaney White) and Emma (Lelia Symington), who in the aftermath of their father's sudden death find themselves dealing with a mysterious entity with evil intentions towards them and those around them on Halloween. As they battle the titular creature, it tests the already frayed nature of their family ties and forces them to confront their past and the divergent nature of their relationships with their late father, in order to survive the wrath of The Jester.
There's a certain nobility in attempting to dive into the nature of grief and family within the bounds of the horror genre, and that's something arguably The Jester does very well as a film. The complex and difficult nature of the way Emma and Jocelyn remember their father, and the very different connections they had with their father are very much at the heart of the film. Problematically that actually detracts from the more established tropes that you might expect to find and creates lengthy periods between major scares which definitely hampers the effectiveness of the film in that respect. The family narrative is undoubtedly being used to try and flesh out the main characters, and make the audience more invested in their fate, but on some level that fails the film in its primary objective of creating a number of scares to keep those viewers on the edge of their seats.
The Jester himself is a very effective villainous force. He feels like a mixture of Jigsaw, Freddie Kruger and to a lesser extent Jason Voorhees. The wardrobe design, with the top hat, intense mask and orange suit, is both unsettling and iconic which really makes it stand out as something different. As a character, his motivations appear muddy at best, with the nature of his powers and drive seemingly given minimal explanation which makes it harder to invest in why he is intent on terrorising the family at the centre of the film's events. It doesn't seem clear if he's a mythical creature or a demon, or a man with supernatural abilities. A mystique is not necessarily a bad thing for a monster, but the lack of context and the eventual explanation contained in the third act is less than satisfactory. Perhaps there is something being held back for an eventual sequel, but there was certainly room for a little more backstory for The Jester.
One of the highlights of The Jester is the acting performances from the two sisters. Symington is fantastic as Emma, which helps anchor a film that at times feels like it's in danger of meandering away from its central story. Her character has many reasons to feel aggrieved and angry, and the way she conveys that is certainly one of the best things about the film. Conversely, White has a far more straightforward character arc, but is able to imbue the role of Jocelyn with a likability that really helps maintain interest in her survival, and the chemistry between White and Symington really helps carry the film, especially during the scenes that lack the enough of menacing threat from The Jester. Speaking of The Jester, although the role is largely silent and the character wears a mask throughout, the gestures and movement make a character who could easily appear silly or over-the-top genuinely menacing, and a lot of that is down to deliberate motion from the actor behind the mask, which happens to be co-writer Michael Sheffield taking a hand on approach with his creation.
Overall, The Jester is a flawed, but enjoyable horror movie. The plot is a bit thin in places, the pacing a little uneven, and the focus not always where it would be most effective. That said, it features a very strong, engrossing pairing of main characters, some well worked action and most importantly a very well-drawn, if not excessively mysterious antagonist with an eye-catching look. The Jester may not be perfect, but it feels less well-trodden than the usual horror franchises and offers a refreshing new face in the world of cinematic terror.
The Jester releases in cinemas on November 10th