Without (2011)

Nominated for the Sutherland Award at this year’s BFI London Film Festival, Mark Jackson’s Without is a slow burning drama which recalls the subtle beauty of Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist style and her ability to capture the raw beauty of rural America.

Joslyn (Joslyn Jensen) is a recent high school graduate who takes a job caring for Frank, a disabled, catatonic, wheelchair bound, old man. Frank’s family have gone on holiday, leaving Joslyn alone with him in their isolated, Washington State island home. Before leaving they run her through an endless list of incredibly pedantic do’s and dont’s, including the varying volumes the television must be kept at, the food she can and can’t eat and oddly of most importance is that she “must not put the knives in the dishwasher!” There’s no internet connection, or any real phone reception, just her, Frank and the peaceful Island countryside which surrounds this remote community.

Joslyn’s existence soon becomes little more than a mundane routine of caring for Frank, exercising and watching old videos of herself with another girl – who we soon discover is her former lover. The extreme isolation she’s encountering soon exposes her fragile emotional state. As the inevitable cabin fever begins to set in, Joslyn searches for anything to plicate her insufferable boredom, from awkward romantic rendezvous with the local kitchen fitter, to improvised internet video ‘chats’, she goes to great lengths to fill her empty days.

Jensen’s beautifully nuanced performance gloriously grasps the viewer’s attention despite the minimal dialogue she’s given to work with. She perfectly captures her characters emotional vulnerability whilst also successfully exuding a strong, confident facade. Joslyn is clearly running away from something but what it is she’s trying to escape from barely matters, as it’s her attempts to integrate herself into this new foreign world which is the most fascinating. Indeed whilst there’s an ever present mystery which surrounds Joslyn’s life (adding an air of intrigue to the proceedings) it’s her current existence in the now rather than her past which is of greater interest.

The relationship which grows between Frank and Joslyn is by far the most griping and surreal facet of Without. At first she seems to pity him, before slowly becoming increasingly unnerved by his presence, whether it’s his nightly groans, vacant expression or the vivid nightmares he appears in. However, as Joslyn becomes more consumed by the boredom which accompanies this incredibly insular job her encounters with Frank become more and more intimate, slowly crossing the boundaries set by her duties into an uncomfortable series of events involving some quite bizarre and inappropriate behaviour.

Beautifully shot, this suffocating chamber piece captures the internal suffering repressed emotions can manifest into, with Jackson’s claustrophobic framing and voyeuristic approach thrusting us into Joslyn’s inescapable prison of erotic escapism and unbearable seclusion. From the ominous soundtrack to the out of focus close-ups there isn’t anything comforting about Without’s harrowing exploration into the crippling effects of grief.

The film’s slow pace may put many off but what they’ll miss is an unnerving, darkly comic and deeply chilling meditative study of human behaviour, complete with a stand out performance by Joslyn Jenson – a cult star in the making.

Director: Mark Jackson
Starring: Joslyn Jensen, Ron Carrier and Brooke Bundy
Runtime: 88 mins
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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