It’s so, so refreshing to see a movie where the actual consequences of certain “superpowers” are explored in a thoughtful and ultimately human way. The practical implications of things like being impervious to poison include not being able to get drunk; sometimes you teleport a piece of paper but forget the ink. Without getting into spoilers, every ability these characters get is thought through to its logical conclusion in ways I’ve never seen any movie do before. Jealous Gods benefits from a writer who is less interested in Blockbuster-style action and expensive special effects and is more willing to be careful, thorough, and insightful with character. What does it mean to be friends with a guy who can coerce you to change your mind at any time? Trusting someone and fighting over a girl are really high-stakes scenarios when you can manipulate matter - but Jealous Gods isn’t worried about showing you brutal, bloody deaths, or visually epic, grand-scale clashes. Subdued, cleverly-shot confrontations in dorm rooms are what we have instead. Worried it might get boring? Don’t worry, the writing’s too good for that.
The writing is, pretty clearly, this film’s strongest element. Ari Bach (the writer/director) exhibits masterful characterization with some dry, reflective humor thrown in for good measure. You don’t have to “like” any of these characters to be utterly fascinated by them and want to know how it ends (spoiler alert: you’ll be left wanting more). The way they interact with each other and change over the course of the movie is gradual and authentic. A good chunk of the movie is generously dedicated to showing the characters experimenting with their powers, which is exactly what the audience wants at the beginning of a film which wastes no time getting where it wants to go.
There’s a risk you may be put off by the pacing; this is definitely a slow burn, with some scenes feeling painfully heavy. However, I’m inclined to believe that it contributes to tone in a really beneficial way. Yes, the movie’s slow at times - but it’s asking us as an audience to slow down ourselves and do a lot of thinking. I’m happy to oblige - the film asks us to consider a lot of philosophical topics, like determinism, utilitarianism, epistemology, speculative realism. As a philosophy student myself, I’m pleased that the film doesn’t talk down to its audience. Nor does it expect too much from us, a la Primer - questions are posed, considered, and sometimes even answered in an accessible, often blunt way. The balance between honest, heart-wrenching intra- and interpersonal drama and genuine philosophical questioning is really exquisite.
The film does have its faults, of course. The CG effects look cheap, but not in a way that detracts from the story - sometimes jarring, though. The film could benefit from a little more integrated soundtrack (though when original songs do show up, they’re excellent). Sound design is poor at best, and the color grading occasionally makes the film look washed-out. Some of the actors’ performances are a little discordant (with Parker Fowler as Don an exception). One thing I definitely applaud is the way the film was shot - obviously with an eye to artistic expression. For a first film, this is a stunner. I can’t wait to show it to everyone and uh you should go watch it yes.
One thing is that there are some sexual encounters that are dubiously consensual, but the film takes its characters to task for it; just know that those scenes are there if you’re sensitive to things like that. No blood or gore or anything, or explicit bits.