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An unexpected standout of the Unnamed Footage Fest, “Jeffrey’s Hell” really challenges what found footage can be and leaves a lasting impact.

Jeffrey's Hell

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Jeffrey’s Hell begins with the main character of this thought-provoking and claustrophobic mockumentary, Aaron Irons (the film’s writer-director, playing himself), recounting his unpleasant dealings with NASA. He was invited to participate in a space project known as Mars One. All he wanted to do was go to Mars and help advance mankind, but the opportunity was merely a ruse for a reality show competition. This was a profound disappointment to him.

He eventually made a movie called Chest, a fictional story inspired by a local East Tennessee legend legend from the Appalachian Mountains.

A series of interviews with the cast and crew of Chest revealed that Aaron was fascinated by these Appalachian legends and ghost stories and eager to work on a new project. One project was a documentary about a story that inspired Chest, an allegedly cursed forest known as Jeffrey’s Hell.

After receiving a cryptic email from a secure server revealing geographical coordinates to a cave in the middle of Jeffrey’s Hell, Aaron, an experienced caver, calls up some old crewmates from Chest and asks them to join him for an expedition into the cave.

Failing to share any advance information or specific details about the plan ahead of time, Aaron is disappointed to find out that no one can join him on his journey. Yet, that doesn’t stop him from trekking on. Starting in Falls Branch, Cherokee National Forest, Aaron embarks on his adventure alone, and it’s the last time anyone sees or hears from him (with all interviews gathered after Aaron’s disappearance).

The first half of Jeffrey’s Hell deals with Aarons’ disappearance, while the second half is the final cave footage he shot; this is when the magic happens.

Jeffrey's Hell

Many times during the movie, Aaron stresses how unsafe it is to hike alone, but he doesn’t want to miss this opportunity. Eventually, he walks to a cave entrance that appears out of nowhere.
He enters, and within a few paces, he steps on a red flag the size of China but completely ignores it.

It’s nail-biting watching Aaron explore the mysterious cave.

Every muddy, pebbly crunch can be heard under his boots, along with a symphony of dripping water. Reacting to a great example of found footage immersion, one of our eyes is looking for lethal rock formations, while the other one is on full alert for pareidolia. Distant sounds of inhuman screeching and very human whistling creep into our ears.

After a horrific discovery and a suspicious accident, Aaron is left to wander the caves until he finds an exit or dies. As time passes, he sinks deeper into madness while the malignant forces in the cave torment him. He questions his existence and rationalizes that his whole world is nothing but a camera lens.

Aaron relates thoughts to himself about belonging, intention, and impending doom. The existentialism of the story is ever-present, especially after he gets lost in the cave.

His final moments were dizzying, painful, and shocking, and I thought my heart was going to leap out of my chest.

The lingering effects of this movie are profound, and I highly recommend it as an intellectual alternative to the same-old found footage cinema.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4
Jeffrey’s Hell World Premiered at the 2024 Unnamed Footage Festival (UFF), where it was screened for this review.

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