The Movie Waffler Film Maudit 2.0 2023 Review - JERK | The Movie Waffler

Film Maudit 2.0 2023 Review - JERK

Jerk review
An incarcerated serial killer relives his crimes through a puppet show.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Giséle Vienne

Starring: Jonathan Capdevielle

Jerk film poster Gisele Vienne

Between 1970 and 1973 Dean Corll tortured and murdered at least 28 young men in Texas. Corll, who came to be known as the Candy Man, was aided in many cases by a pair of teenage accomplices – David Brooks and Wayne Henley – until he was shot dead by the latter. In 1993 American writer Dennis Cooper published Jerk, a novella based on the evil exploits of the trio, and 15 years later adapted the story for the stage in collaboration with director Gisèle Vienne and actor Jonathan Capdevielle.

Jerk review

The play saw Capdevielle essay the role of Brooks, now several decades into a lifelong prison sentence. As a (rather unlikely) form of rehabilitation, Brooks puts on a puppet show in which he recreates the crimes he committed with Corll and Henley.

Capdevielle returns to the role for Vienne's screen adaptation of Jerk. Filmed in what appears to be a single unbroken shot, the movie sees Brooks put his show on for a crowd barely glimpsed as blurry figures and occasionally heard laughing uncomfortably during what constitutes the "lighter" moments of the inmate's performance.

Jerk review

Brooks takes the role of himself, while using ventriloquism and puppets to bring to life Corll and Henley, along with their victims. At first the audience laughs at the sight of a puppet that looks a lot like the star of some old kids' TV show essaying a serial killer, but any uncomfortable giggling on the part of both the audience in the film and the one watching Jerk itself soon gives way to discomfort.

Using his puppets, Brooks acts out unimaginably gruesome atrocities. It's testament to Capdevielle's performance that we quickly forget we're watching puppets. Brooks wants the audience to focus on his puppets, but Vienne's camera tellingly focusses on the face of the human (or perhaps inhuman) performer. This raises the question of where the audience of the stage production centred their attention – on man or muppets? Did they follow the character of Brooks' intention and watch the puppet show, or did they succumb to Vienne's intention to watch Brooks himself? One of the main things that differentiates cinema from theatre is that the former gives the director greater power over what their audience should be focused on, and Vienne forces us to watch Brooks as he tortures himself by recreating his crimes in this odd manner.

Jerk review

Is it torture for Brooks or redemption? If it's the latter, does he deserve redemption? As played by Capdevielle, the suggestion is that Brooks is punishing himself with his performance in a way his incarceration never could. In essence Vienne may have simply filmed her play, but by centering the face of Brooks she employs one of cinema's great advantages over the stage – the close-up. Watching Brooks wrestle with his grisly memories makes for a deeply uncomfortable 60 minutes, and Capdevielle is creepily convincing as someone who has engaged in the sort of acts that fuel TV's True Crime industry.

 plays at Film Maudit 2.0 from January 12th.

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