"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.
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 Jonah 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.
Jonah Lives is released on April 21st on DVD.
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David Paul Hellings
Images provided by Justin Cook PR