Full Moon’s “Jack Attack” sticks the landing, but the brief journey to get there feels longer and more prodding than it should.
Anything released under the Full Moon umbrella can be viewed in the same way as films released by Troma. You know exactly what you are going to get, and you’re not showing up expecting high art.
What you do expect, however, is a fun, campy, delightfully over-the-top good time. One thing you can generally count on is for Full Moon to understand the assignment and cater to its audience.
Jack Attack is the latest film in the popular Demonic Toys cult horror franchise, featuring the malevolent jack-in-the-box up to his usual evil tricks.
It’s a simple premise that tends to work well for these films.
Lilly (played well by Sofia Castellanos) is a teen living in the foster system. Following a previous supernatural episode, she was left mute with a deep dislike of wind-up toys. Once she is provided with a new foster family, Jack returns to finish what he started.
Lilli’s initial backstory is presented in a strong pre-credits sequence as Jack manifests his handiwork with some decent effects, boding well for the rest of the film. It’s exactly as nasty and nutty as you’re hoping for.
Unfortunately, the fun and games don’t last long.
For a film boasting a run time of only an hour, you’d expect that writer/director Willaim Butler (Baby Oopsie) — a man who knows his way around the Full Moon funhouse — would keep the chaos and carnage coming at a fast pace.
Instead, he inexplicably settles into a period of exposition, introducing us to her current abode and the not-quite-right caretaker, Mrs. Culver (an appropriately creepy Donna Steele), who places all of the blame at Lilly’s door for the earlier murders.
Lilly’s new foster parents, Kate (Christine Brunner) and Tyler (Sean Ramey) Yost, and her child services guardian, Audrey (Mabel Thomas), round out the key supporting cast.
Audrey pushes through the approval for Lilly’s transfer to the care of the Yosts despite Mrs. Culver’s vehement protests. Lilly, Mrs. Culver argues, is unstable and not ready to go live with another family. Audrey believes Lilly is just traumatized, as is completely normal to expect given what she’s been through; a little love and support may be all she needs to feel herself again.
This difference of opinion puts the two women at odds with each other. Though nothing of any consequence seems to come from this initial tension, patience results in a somewhat satisfying payoff in the film’s final minutes.
Lilly’s unhappy existence at the children’s home is hinted at by an encounter with another orphan, Rochelle (Brooklynn Johnson), who delights in tormenting the mute teenager. This feels like a rather pointless scene included simply to pad an already paltry run time. But it does set the stage for a zinger of an ending.
All of this setup in Jack Attack should clear the way for us to hit the ground running once Lilly moves into her new home, but that’s not the case.
When we arrive at the Yost’s quaint little farm home, there’s a further introduction to the family, including their daughter Dewey (Taylor Abigail Rice) and son Mike (Carson Polish), and Mike’s girlfriend Starr (Maddie Small), which eats up more of the limited run time. We also get some Lifetime-esque drama as Audrey and Lilly bond.
All of the characters feel as though they have been constructed from a build-a-family kit. We have the kindhearted mom, the creepy dad, the vapid social-media-obsessed teen daughter, the flirty frat boy brother, and his mean girl blonde girlfriend.
Of course, we’ve seen enough supernatural slasher horror films to know that character depth isn’t the point; they are all just fodder for the ensuing massacre.
The super shady farm hand, Clinton (Tim Novotny), is also a cookie-cutter character who meets his end by snooping in Lilly’s trunk, finding out why putting your hands in a possessed Jack-in-the-box box (try saying that with a mouthful of grapes) is always a bad idea.
It’s a cool kill, but it only serves to emphasize the film’s greatest flaw.
When the horror happens, it tends to be pretty cool with decent effects.
But there’s just too much time in between cool things happening, and most of the film drags as a result.
The balance of story to action feels wrong in a film of this length. I found myself checking the clock too many times to see how long was left.
I expected the last ten minutes of Jack Attack would provide a blitz of action to make up for the largely forgettable build-up. And to an extent, I was right. We get the expected chase scene, which culminates with a pretty unhinged (that’s meant as a compliment) finale that I won’t spoil here.
It’s honestly quite fun, but it feels like it’s too little too late. When you have a film that’s barely long enough to be considered a feature, you really need to hit the ground running. This one doesn’t.
It reminds me of the horror films of the 80s, all lurid covers and a complete lack of anything meaningful until the last five minutes.
Ultimately, Demonic Toys: Jack Attack is well-made and well-acted but doesn’t fully deliver on the promises made in the trailer.