Jack’s Back reminded me of the late Roger Ebert’s oft-quoted saying “it’s not what a film is about, but how it’s about it.” With plot ideas from jarringly different sources, the film should seem indecisive about its intentions. But writer-director Rowdy Harrington clearly knows the clever plan by which all these pieces fall together; his intention isn’t transcending the genre so much as toying with the audience’s expectations of it. Jack’s Back has a serial killer, a murder mystery wherein you immediately see whodunit, a man wrongly accused, memory-inducing hypnosis, and psychically linked twins, one of whom not only is the victim in the aforementioned murder, but also may be the serial killer. There may be too many ingredients, but the pleasure of the film comes from watching how this genre jambalaya cooks.
Nineteen eighty eight has its hands all over the film: moonlight pours through the slats in open blinds, illuminating the smoky interiors of buildings; people have mullets and the remnants of Joisey hair; a dreadful (even by 80’s standards) rock song blasts across the opening credits, followed later by a synth-heavy score replete with lonely saxophone solos selling sex. Unlike most ’80s slasher movies, the sex stays on the soundtrack, but Jack’s Back succumbs to that genre’s penchant for the “it’s only a dream” sequence. How Harrington handles this familiar trope is the film’s biggest and most ingenious surprise.