Saturday, December 3, 2011

Movie Review and Director Interview: Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw by Chris Regan

"Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw" is a horror comedy by Chris Regan loosely based on the classic short horror story "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs which you can read here

Jenny Ringo lives with her slacker best friend Gavin. While on a Wiccan retreat, he deigns to leave the apartment and comes across the mysterious and musical Magician who gives him a magic monkey's paw that will grant three wishes. Needless to say, Gavin does not wish wisely and quickly regrets wishing for an awesome new best friend named Jeff Awesome. Jeff needs a girlfriend that is as awesome as he is, and Gavin wishes for Candy Gorgeous, and a pizza. Comedic antics ensue as Jenny returns to find Gavin in trouble. It's up to her to save him from the curse of the monkey's paw.

Unfortunately Jeff Awesome and Candy Gorgeous don't want to be erased from existence, and the only way to undo Gavin's wishes is to re-attach the paw to the monkey, which brings it's own troubles by sending the individual to their own personal hell.
Jenny Ringo and Gavin front, center with the some of the cast and crew.

An added bonus is that the music in this short film is quite good. The magician played by Simon Messingham has a really neat musical song and dance number that you just have to see. I never thought I'd find myself enjoying a song about a monkey's paw.

The Magician, the Monkey and Jenny Ringo.
The pacing wavered at times, but the jokes more than made up for that in terms of amusement value. My favorite joke is a riff on Chekhov's Gun called "Chekhov's gum." But that's probably because I'm a literature nerd. The cute antics and cheeky dialogue were spot on and made me laugh. 

If you're looking for a good light hearted take on "The Monkey's Paw" you should definitely sign up on the e-mail list at to get an invitation to watch "Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw." Initially "Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw" is going to be released exclusively to the people who are signed up to the e-mail list.  Towards the end of December, the movie will be released to the general public. 

There were only a few issues that could be improved upon in this short film. I would've liked to have seen Jeff Awesome and Candy Gorgeous be more sinister before they became life threatening. Overall, they came off as a little creepy, but not scary. For people who were wished into existence with a sinister monkey's paw, they really didn't struggle with Jenny for the monkey's paw at the end sequence when she was about to put it back on. They just seemed to be trying to talk her out of it, instead of physically attempting to steal it away. They really weren't sinister or evil enough to convince me that they were created by the monkey's paw. Then again, neither was the Magician. (Who I really liked by the way.)

I understand that this is a horror comedy, and I get the story behind it (one of my favorites. I loved it when I saw on stage as a kid) but... for all of it's heart, it was lacking a bit of drama-- Gavin's life didn't really seem to be in that much danger. Yeah, his new "friends" were annoying but they weren't trying to kill anyone or really actively keeping him hostage in his apartment . Their lack of force makes Jenny's sacrifice at the end seem a bit unnecessary. Her actions as a character seem a bit extreme for me, especially when she had been putting up with Gavin's crap for quite a while before he really messed up. 

The acting quality wavered a bit from start to finish, and there were times when it felt as though the actors really weren't into it, as though they were just going through the motions and not truly feeling what the character would feel. For instance, at the beginning Jenny's actress (Rosie Duncan) lacked the force of presence that she had at the end of the film. 

I'm not sure if it was just the delivery of the lines, but some times the actor's facial expressions and body language did not match what was going on. The physical action between characters really needs work for it to feel real- at times it felt like I was watching a high school play. There wasn't enough force behind it and the characters weren't too alarmed when it did happen, say when Jenny was pulled up on stage by the Magician, to make me worry about what was going to happen to her.

Gavin, as a pothead, wasn't inclined to panic or rush into anything, but his life was at stake and so was his best friend's, so it would've had more emotional impact for the viewer if he had gotten a little more excited/upset during the climax of the story.

Unfortunately, it felt like it was supposed to be for an adult audience but didn't quite deliver. It felt as though it was made for young adults and was a bit too campy at times, mainly because the potential for suspense wasn't realized when the conflict picked up. 

However, with that said, these issues are minor compared to the quality of entertainment the short film provides. Overall I really enjoyed the movie. It is cute, funny, and a lighthearted take on "The Monkey's Paw."  The visuals were great. I loved the costume choices and the song and dance number. With a little work on developing a sense of danger and suspense, the sequel is sure to be fantastic!

The following is my interview with Chris Regan.

Who did the animations in the film? They were really cute.
My brother Pete did the animations. He’s a really talented animator, he just doesn’t like doing it very much so I’ll use any excuse to encourage him to do more. If you’re interested in seeing more of his work you should check out Jonny the Pessimist and In Case of Zombies 

How did you come up with the idea for "Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw?"
Jenny Ringo was a character I’ve been writing about for years. She first appeared in a few short stories I wrote at university and later turned up in a couple of feature scripts that never really went anywhere. I decided the only way to get her into an actual film was to make it myself. The idea for this film really developed from watching other peoples’ short films. I run a monthly short film screening event in Brighton and I’m often a little disappointed with the lack of ambition and most of all the lack of decent storytelling in the short films I see. So I really just tried to think of things you never see in short films, like a monster tongue and a musical number, and tried to develop a story that would allow me to fit all those things in. I can’t remember exactly at which point I decided to use the Monkey’s Paw story as a base but that was really the key to the whole thing.

How long did it take to shoot?
We shot on weekends because most of the people working on it, myself included, had day-jobs during the week. We planned to shoot it over three weekends but ended up needing a fourth and a couple of evenings to finish off. It then took another year to finish which was the really hard part. Basically I was working with freelance professionals on the post-production side but couldn’t afford to pay them so had to work around their paid jobs.

The actor that plays the magician, Simon Messingham, is a pretty awesome singer. Can you tell me a little about him?
Simon is a fellow writer who I knew had also done some acting as I’d seen him in a couple of other short films. He also co-wrote and starred in a BBC series called "Tales of Uplift and Moral Improvement" and has written a couple of Doctor Who novels. He was the first actor I approached to be in the film as I already knew him quite well and wrote the Magician character with him in mind. We’re both huge fans of Jonathan Pryce in "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and I think the Magician is a kind of pantomime version of that character. Recently he’s been producing his own short film "House Trafalgar" which you should definitely look out for next year as it looks like it’s going to be brilliant.

The music in the film is fantastic. Did you have that sort of sound in mind when Tim Howarth composed it?
The musical number really came about because I heard some of Tim’s music through a friend. Originally he just did the monkey’s paw song but when I heard how great that turned out I knew I had to get him to score the rest of the film too. We met a few times to discuss it and I suggested a few band names as reference points – I think Oi Va Voi and Gogol Bordello were the main ones. I also wanted the whole soundtrack to have a circus/carnival feel. But I think Tim has a really distinctive style of his own so I can’t claim any credit for how fantastically well the score came out. If you want to hear some more of his music you should check out his band, Blackfin

The hipster couple at the start of the movie, where they in their own personal hell before Gavin wished them into his life? ('m only wondering because Jenny ended up on the same beach.)
The point of the opening was to give the audience a really bad feeling when the film starts; a ‘this is going to be really hard work’ type of feeling. That way when Jenny comes in and rescues you from that it makes you instantly like her more. The basic idea was that hell looks like a really pretentious art film, and it was a reference to the kind of short film I mentioned earlier – so I guess it’s really my personal hell onscreen which in itself is incredibly pretentious! But the couple were really there to make you think you’re watching a different type of film as well as establishing hell for later on.

I can tell by the shot angles of the scenes that you have studied how to make a movie. What got you into film making?
I think I have to give credit to my director of photography Darren Berry there as he has a much better eye for visuals than I do. I’m primarily a writer and I’ve worked on a couple of micro-budget action features – I wrote "Ten Dead Men" which was released on DVD a few years ago and I did some writing on "Warrioress" which should be getting a release next year. I also have a couple of features in development but nothing I’ve worked on so far has really been representative of the kind of film I want to write and the kind of story I want to tell. That’s why I decided to make Jenny Ringo. I then surrounded myself with very talented people like Darren who could make it look like I knew what I was doing!

I’m currently working on a sequel to the film and I’m hoping to concentrate on the directing side a bit more so I’ve actually asked a friend to write the script. If you want to keep up with the progress on that film we’ll be sending out updates via our mailing list which you can sign up to at  here. It’s free to sign up and we’ll be sending the occasional e-mail with updates on how the sequel is progressing as time goes on.

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