One of the twelve nominees for this year’s Sutherland Award at the BFI London Film Festival (and surely a strong contender), Mark Jackson’s minimalist debut Without certainly doesn’t lack emotion and intensity beneath its slow-burning exterior, and welcomes a new emerging talent in the face of Joslyn Jensen.
Newcomer Jensen is endlessly watchable as a recent college graduate isolated on a small, Washington State island community as she cares for Frank (Ron Carrier), a catatonic, wheelchair-bound old man, whilst his family are away. Before leaving, his controlling family run through a number of ridiculous rules and regulations for Joslyn to adhere to, most relating to the television’s volume and channel controls, or the fact that knives should never be placed in the dishwasher.
Once alone – and without reception or wi-fi signal for her smartphone – Joslyn spends the majority of her day feeding and cleaning Frank, exercising or staring out of the window at the local deer population, who appear completely at ease with this new human intruder.
Importantly, Joslyn replays videos of herself with a young woman, and we discover that she was one of our protagonist’s former lovers. As cabin fever begins to set in, Joslyn goes to extremes in order to placate her boredom, and the tone shifts from cinéma vérité to foreboding, psychosexual drama.
Without’s initial slow pace may put off some, but those willing to put in the effort will be rewarded with a truly mesmerising, darkly comic chamber piece, bristling with psychosexual intrigue and repressed desire. Jackson reveals himself as a truly exciting director, able to create a lot from very little, and Jensen is surely destined for bigger things after such a wonderful showcase for her talents.
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