After washing up on a beach from an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Jonas feels that he was spared by God for a reason: to spread the word about the Lord and help bring Jesus into the hearts of people. Having felt a divine presence, Jonas now walks the streets of Los Angeles going where he believes he is being guiding to give a personal invitation to a certain few to hear a message from God himself.
After making waves with "The Bunny Game" director Adam Rehemeier and actor/collaborator Gregg Gilmore have come back with "Jonas". As some people may or may not know, Adam and Gregg met when Adam had casted Gregg in his short film "Henry and Marvin" (which you can watch here) and the two hit it off like old friends. "Jonas" is the result of this meeting of the minds and is a film that has been in the works for awhile. It was actually the originally intended as the first feature film but then that slowly morphed and became the beast that is known as "The Bunny Game". You could say "Jonas" had been resurrected shortly after. And while the movie is cited as the "cinematic equivalent of paint drying", "Jonas" is something that I don't think many can be prepared for. Especially not after "The Bunny Game" but Ronny and I have decided to follow the light and try to see what it is that Jonas wants to show us in this special double-review.
When it became known that Adam Rehmeier was making "Jonas" as a polar opposite of "The Bunny Game", I am pretty sure we all prepared ourselves all the same. And it's probably good to be prepared. "Jonas" doesn't attack you with shock, but it challenges your psyche and (if you are religious) your religion. I am entirely free from religion. I don't even have it as a part of my life, nor do I actively think about religion. What I think about is people. People scare me. Strangers scare me. Jonas is a stranger with a mission, which might make it even scarier to me. No, the movie isn't scary in that sense, but the idea of being pushed by someone believing in something so strongly - that gets to me. The fact that Jonas actually does seem to have SOMETHING that draws him to certain people makes the movie worth thinking about especially. Whether the people he is drawn to visit are Christians or not doesn't matter. But everyone of them accepts him into their home, and there is always a way for the discussion to go - always ending with Jonas' mission of getting them to Venice Beach at sunrise on Sunday.
As I said, I'm not religious and I barely think about it. I know that I specifically don't believe in all the Gods there are, but I don't have enough care to be an atheist. This is why a movie like "Jonas" doesn't reach into my soul in the sense that it might do to some other people. What I see is a man who needed a new start and he found God. He was given a mission to get people to a place for God to give them a message. To do this he gets really close and personal with strangers that he was supposedly drawn to, and he manages to open them up. These meetings is where the strength of the movie is for me - not the religious aspect. These are uncomfortable, real and powerful even on a purely psychological level. I am happy that the movie never forces religion on you even though Jonas does that on the strangers. It's documenting the journey of this man and the stories the strangers tell. That's humane and real, not religious. To be fair, I feel the movie tries not to take a side on religion, as it makes both the religious and non-religious people out to be good, smart and considerate people. To me, "Jonas" is free from judgement even though Jonas himself might not be.
Jonas as a character is clearly crafted to be a 100% a Christian messenger. Everything about him shows this. And it makes him a very awkward person to be around. He listens to people, he helps them open up, but it is all to give them the invitation. His eyes, mouth, hands and entire posture gives signals of both love and hate. He's clearly obsessed with something, and that is to deliver the message. Whether that makes him a danger or not, I can't tell you. I personally think he might be more dangerous to himself than to anyone else. But he is intimidating, that's for sure.
It's impossible not to mention Adam Rehmeier's amazing cinematography in here. The movie is simple in the way that it's mostly either Jonas being alone doing something, or him talking to people. But instead the cinematography and beautiful photography takes on a role. It's so crisp and clear that you get even more personal with the people. As many small, personal movies the movie is picky with color. It's not black and white, but it's just enough to make the colors visible. Yes, it could have been black and white and not really change too much, though I am happy it wasn't because we needed anything we could to not get lost in thoughts. Since the movie is very slow, intentionally, it was needed. The images speak loudly here, and at times almost stealing the show. It's good that the interactions are usually set in small rooms and apartments as it helps us be completely focused on them.
Another thing that is important - and this is the movie important thing. Hands down. That's the acting. Every single person in this movie is perfect. I doubt I can recall a more perfect cast for any movie in the last 5 years. I might have seen better performances, but not full casts that are this perfect. Everyone is believable and with real quirks. They're not perfect, but they are all people you could know and meet any day of the week. It's the weaknesses that Adam managed to get out of people that made it possible. That and being able to find people to actually pull it off, of course. Gregg Gilmore as Jonas is a force, literally. He is beyond an uncomfortable person to meet. There's something unearthly about him, and it's all built on his past and future (the mission). The present doesn't exist for him. Gregg Gilmore, who is a co-creator of this project, clearly knew what was required to bring out these details that made Jonas so powerful.
Completely driven by dialogue and thought, "Jonas" is perhaps as uncomfortable to watch as "The Bunny Game". It's an experience to watch, and while I would have loved to see it as a movie rather than cut into shorter segments (Verses) to stream, I think Adam Rehmeier knows what is best for it. Had it been one movie it would have been hard to push through, but it would also have been intentional and very effective. It still remains a fantastic project that takes a little time to grow into you, but once Jonas starts meeting people in Verse 3 you have essentially gone too far in. You're stuck. You're amazed at the interactions, how touching they are, how Jonas handles them and how they handle Jonas. It's heavily reflecting religion, yet it works perfectly as a study of psychology for someone who doesn't care about religion. What few things I caught up on that aren't mentioned here should not be discussed in the review as I don't want to spoil it for people either. I will say this - since this project will be free to stream, you better fucking watch it. And do it alone.
"The cinematic equivalent of paint drying."
Phrases that have been tossed around in reference to "Jonas" in discussions I've had with Adam. Actually, it seems like for as long as I've known about Adam and "The Bunny Game" I have known about "Jonas" as well. To a point that he has almost felt like someone real -- you know how someone you know your life talks about a person from their life to a point that they sort of become this enigma. You've never met them but they still feel real and that you already know them. I know Jonas is someone real for Adam and Gregg and having finally had a chance to see the finished version of "Jonas", the character Jonas feels more real than ever.
While Adam wanted to create something that was the polar opposite of "The Bunny Game" I think he, unintentionally, made a movie strikingly similar. At the very least, "Jonas" is the opposite side of the same coin. "Jonas" is not a horror movie but it still felt like a terrifying movie simply by watching Jonas -- his cold, blank stare just eats at your soul. His interactions with people are awkward and creepy because even though he says he is a man looking to help spread the word of God, it feels like there is something else to him. Something darker. Does he really want to spread the word of God, or is there something else? He preaches love of the lord yet he feels as cold as you'd imagine a killer with no remorse would, yet he never poses any real threat. Jonas is a man who preaches about light but appears to reside in the shadows and darkness. Who is Jonas?
That's what feels remarkable about "Jonas"; Adam describing the film as watching paint dry isn't too far off but somehow it's still interesting. The dull nature of "Jonas" is fascinating and unsettling. Again, why? It's a movie about a man who truly believes he was sent on a mission from God to spread the word and all he does is talk with people and tries to get them to understand the importance of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. How is a movie about a man speaking to people about God creepy? It's because of the realism that Adam captures. Much like "The Bunny Game", "Jonas" is a film that never feels like a movie. It embraces the monotonous. There is no linear storyline. "Jonas" is about the reality and the reality is uncomfortable. Each meeting is unique in how people respond to an overwhelming presence pushing the word of God. Some embrace it and others reject it.
I am not a religious person by any means. The idea of faith is foreign to me so the ideals of Jonas and his belief that he is on a divine quest to bring people together to hear the word of God is lost to me like someone speaking another language. Even having faith in nothing, such as Atheism or Nihilism is something a cannot grasp. Watching these different people all have different interactions with this single character made for a compelling movie. One character in particular had a response that I found that I could relate to and that in general is why the movie works.
"Jonas" is not an exciting movie. It is not a movie for those who simply look to acquire shock films for bragging rights or those who are looking for escapism. "Jonas" is an extremely personal experience from the subject matter to the main character. The people in it are very real. While they maybe actors to a degree, most are not acting and their interactions with Jonas come from some place in our reality. Their discussions are real and will resonate with those who are listening. And even though it is a movie, and their are truly beautiful and cinematic moments, it still blurs that line of reality to a point that it can feel like you're watching a documentary. That the movie is merely Adam following around a very bizarre character trying to do what he feels is God's work.
It's a remarkable feat that Adam and Gregg have accomplished. You know it's a movie but you will still feel the need to stop and remind yourself of that. The actors, the non-actors, are also to thank for the real atmosphere as their stories can create a number of mixed emotions, some of which were almost heartbreaking to watch. But that's what "Jonas" works, it's that reality. Watching each verse it no longer became and exercise of believability but trying to find the illusive seam that would let me know where the cinematic part was.
There are a lot of great character-studies out there in the world of film and from the ones that I have seen, none have been quite like "Jonas". This will be an experience that most will not like and will probably go so far as to hate it. Those that can enjoy and appreciate something well crafted and something that is designed to challenge you on a personal, mental and spiritual level. Adam and Gregg have made something unique by having "Jonas" deeply seeded in reality that it's hard to believe Jonas isn't an actual person (he is and he isn't).
Adam's filmmaking style is simple but somehow manages to create bold and striking visuals with nothing more than what is in front of him. As I said before, Jonas feels like he's hiding something darker. He's working for good but still feels like there's something much more sinister below the surface. It seems Adam reflected that by always having Jonas cast in both light and darkness -- using a single, and most likely a natural lighting source, he gave the character and unsettling presence. And then there's Gregg Gilmore who not only made those who let him into his house uncomfortable, but makes the viewer uncomfortable as well with nothing more than a stare into the camera.
There is so much to "Jonas" that it is hard and impossible to get into in a review and sadly I know I have missed plenty simply by my own chosen ignorance in faith. It is an experiment that is more suited for discussions than reviewing and critiquing. Regardless, "Jonas" was a much more intense experience than I could have guessed and something I believe has the power to effect the viewer by doing nothing more than reflecting our world back upon us. It's the "characters" that make the movie and that's because they are us, they are in our world and "Jonas" is our reality.
Our final thoughts:
We're not ashamed to admit that there were obviously some things that were lost on us with "Jonas" due to the project's religious nature and neither myself or Ronny being familiar with religion on any level. That does not prove to be a deterrent for our enjoyment, if you can call it that, or our appreciation for "Jonas". On a technical level, "Jonas" is relatively simple but has a highly visual presence from Adam's ability and knowledge of how to use the environment effectively and how to frame a shot. There's no fancy camera tricks and no filtering outside of simple color grading but it still looks incredible.
What made "Jonas" unforgettable were the characters and the realism captured within the movie. Writer and actor Gregg Gilmore brought out a performance that made the title character unsettling, creepy and believable. He's a strange man who manages to convince people to let them into their homes and while attempting to spread the word of God, he manages to shake the characters and the viewers at their very core with nothing more than his presence and his stare. Then there are the actors, or rather, the non-actors who also helped in making this movie blur the lines between reality and fiction. These were real people with real reactions to a character that brought out their deepest thoughts and ideals in faith and life, making it not only an interesting character-study, but an incredible experience as well.
We would like to take a moment to make a note that while we referred to "Jonas" as a movie, it has actually been broken up into 6 individual segments aptly titled as Verses. These Verses will be made available to the public completely and entirely free in the coming weeks on the "Jonas" website. Not only will you find the segments there but you will also find a still gallery featuring photos from the production and a documentary on "Jonas" titled "Do You Know Where the Men Play Basketball At Venice Beach?". So bookmark the site and keep your eyes peeled for "Jonas".