Jackdaw (2023) Review – Fantastic Fest

Another film making its debut at this year’s Fantastic Fest is Jamie Childs’ (Willow, Doctor Who) crime thriller Jackdaw. It’s a film that wastes no time getting started as we immediately see Jack Dawson (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Haunting of Bly Manor, The Invisible Man), given his avian nickname for obvious reasons, take a call from Silas (Joe Blakemore, The Hunt for Raoul Moat, The Third Day). He fires up his old motocross bike, tells his younger brother Simon (Leon Harrop, The A Word, Ralph & Katie) he’ll be back shortly and takes off.

By seven minutes into the film, he’s somewhere in the North Sea retrieving a package attached to a buoy and being pursued through an offshore wind farm by a pair of men on jet skis. He makes his escape, but when he gets to the dropoff point for the package, there’s no money. There is however an armed man on horseback. And that’s still only fifteen minutes into Jackdaw.

But the worst is still to come when Jack gets home. Their apartment has been ransacked and Simon is missing.

“We see so many American films set in atmospheric towns that don’t tie themselves to local, kitchen-sink stories. I thought, why don’t we do this in Britain?” he said.“We set out to push the envelope of what was possible stylistically and tonally in the region. Its clash of pastoral and industrial worlds is the perfect setting for an exciting, pulpy chase thriller,”

Jamie Childs

Childs has taken a familiar plot, stripped it down and placed it in a Northern English industrial wasteland. Over the course of one night, Jack will have to face his past if he wants to save his brother. As he does, we gradually learn about his past, ex-military, left town without a goodbye to anyone, forced to come home to take care of his brother after their mother’s death. Again, its familiar material kept to the minimum until something needs to be revealed.

Jackdaw is filled with chases and fight scenes They’re not large scale set pieces, but they are well staged and scenes, like a police raid on a rave, were filmed so as to make the crowds and scope of the action look as big as possible.

Cinematographer Will Baldy (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., You Can Trust Me) does a great job capturing the action, despite often having to contend with low or strobing lights and high speed chases. Combined with an electronic score by Si Begg (Alien Uprising, Kicking Off) and Damon Baxter (Night Feed, Here Comes a New Challenger) it gives a sense of speed to a film that’s almost constantly in motion.

In the title role, Oliver Jackson-Cohen is stoically effective, projecting rage while mostly staying silent, Craig (Thomas Turgoose, Avengement, The Hatching) provides comedy relief as a talkative associate of Silas who ends up joining Jack. In that role, Joe Blakemore gives a suitably manic performance as an unhinged character. The only other character to get significant screen time is Bo (Jenna Coleman, A Separate Peace, Captain America: The First Avenger) Jackdaw’s obligatory ex-girlfriend. Coleman does what she can with a bland character who seems to be there mostly for expository dialogue.

Jackdaw was Childs’ first feature after several shorts and considerable TV work. He’s put that TV background to good use here, getting the most out of a small budget and short schedule and making a promising transition to the big screen, or at least the streaming services.

Jackdaw made its world premiere on September 22nd, but it screens again on the 27th. Further details, including ticket information, can be found here.

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