Year Released : 2015
Director : AJ Wedding
Cast : Nathan Reid, Gabriel Tigerman, Luis Jose Lopez, Dante Spencer and Jen Yeager
How often do you hear about an independent film where a sequel has already been confirmed before the first is even released? I had no intention of watching The Jokesters before I read that fact because it’s a sign of overwhelming confidence and arrogance. Whilst I can understand mainstream films confirming that they’ll be part of a series before the first is even released, such as films based on books (Hunger Games, Twilight, etc) or the Marvel Universe, an independent film doing it is very rare and I had to see if the over-confidence was justified.
It is also exceptionally overconfident when you take into account that this is a found-footage/video camera style film and they have a history of being awful, with the odd exception here and there.
To put that into some sort of context, I recently started working at a cinema and on Saturday night, following watching showings of Ant Man and Andre Rieu’s Maastricht concert, I went to watch a film from the found-footage genre that I can’t name at the moment due to contractual reasons (I’ll be name it in my end of year review of mainstream films). Beforehand I spoke to several friends that were on shift at the time and said that the genre was so predictable that I could say five things that were guaranteed to happen…..and all five happened.
I could count the amount of truly decent found footage style films on one hand and still have fingers to spare….and two of the ones that were used would be taken up by the first two REC films.
Anyway, I digress…….
Nick (Reid), Andrew (Tigerman), Chris (Lopez) and Ethan (Spencer) are creators of the overwhelming popular “Prank Masters”, a Youtube channel that sees them play pranks on each other and the members of the public, such as making one it’s members believe that he has been buried alive. The popularity of the channel continues to grow and grow and the guys meet fans each day.
After a successful latest series, Chris, Andrew and Nick decide to pull the “Cabin in the Woods” prank on Ethan following his wedding. The prank would basically be to do a home-invasion on Ethan and his wife and they picture it as the perfect way to end the series. Ethan’s wedding goes relatively well, that despite a supposedly horrendous speech from Nick (which isn’t shown). Ethan and his new wife (Yeager) go away for their honeymoon, completely unaware of the prank that awaits them.
After a road trip in which they prank each other and some girls at a convenience store, they arrive at the Cabin in which Ethan and his wife are staying. The pranks work before Ethan pulls a shotgun out and forces the group to reveal themselves. Ethan is far from impressed and it sets in motion a chain of events that will lead to tragedy.
So was it worth an announced sequel before this film was even released?
The short answer is a resounding no. Whilst Jokesters isn’t an awful or boring film, it is not fun, scary or particularly engaging either.
Let’s start with the positives and I have to open with something that I love to see in a film, especially films of this nature, the characters are grown and developed so well. In a relatively short run time of barely over 70 minutes, you learn a lot about the four main characters and considerably more than you do in a lot of mainstream films that are more than double the run time.
I felt a genuine connection with the four characters and there was an undeniable bond between them, and this is a great testament to what is a largely enjoyable screenplay. The pranks that they perform, such as letting the girls that they meet in a store do the intro, only to steal their bikini tops and drive off, are actually quite amusing and whilst it’s not something that I would personally watch on Youtube, I could imagine that channel would become quite popular.
The screenplay allows for great character development and relationship building. I watch quite a few Youtube channels on a regular basis, such as Markiplier, JackSepticEye, JacksFilms, Matthias, Steve Kardynal and Chris Stuckmann, and in many ways you gain an affinity with these people. When you see them work with each other in videos, you feel a sense of joy because you’re watching true friendships with common interests, and the film captures that so well. You like these guys and that helps you gloss over that not a lot really happens until they get to the cabin.
Arguably the biggest surprise for me in the film is that because it doesn’t really fit into the horror genre, more on that in the negative section, it doesn’t have a lot of the stigma and predictability of most found-footage films. The presentation feels free and flowing, and actually feels like a genuine piece of found footage, rather than simply something that thinks it can pass as found footage simply because it has a “Property of the xxxx Police Department” screen at the beginning of the film.
However, that’s really where the positivity ends and my biggest gripe is that the film doesn’t really fall into any genre. It advertises itself as a comedy horror, but it’s not really either. It’s not doing anything that comedies would do, other than the aforementioned pranks, and there definitely aren’t any scares or horror, at least not until the final few minutes of the film anyway. I’ve put it into the comedy horror category on the basis that that’s what it claims to be, that despite no evidence to back it up.
Whilst I praised the screenplay and character development earlier, the run time of barely over 70 minutes (from the start of the film to the start of the credits) is dominated by character development, which is fine until you realise that the ending feels exceptionally rushed. I’m not going to spoil the ending but it feels so incredibly disconnected from what has happened in the previous 65 or so minutes that it’s almost as if they realised that they were running out of time and had five minutes to do what they were going to do.
I don’t blame the writer of the screenplay for this, I blame the director. If you are going to have such a short run time, at least make the ending seem realistic and not seemingly out of the blue. I can’t tell you why it feels so out of the blue without spoiling the ending and I really don’t want to have to do that, but believe me when I say that if you do watch this film, you’ll be looking back at the rest of the film and look confused as to where it came from.
I’m not sure how I feel about various parts of the wedding ceremony, such as Nick’s supposedly horrendous speech, being cut out as I think that this would have made for a far, far better and more interesting build up to the ending. The speech left a level of acrimony between Nick and Ethan, but you never truly engage with that level of antagonism because they never show the speech.
Whilst in some films it is better to leave certain aspects to the imagination, there really wasn’t any need to do it here and it could have even helped you understand the ending even more.
And finally, other than the ending there was one thing that left me confused and that was the title. Not this isn’t something that I comment on regularly but the title of “The Jokesters” is unusual because it’s not mentioned once during the film, as opposed to at least 40 mutterings of the channel’s name of “Prank Masters”. Although it’s only a minor thing and not that important, it’s a little strange that they didn’t use that as the name.
This is the first film since I introduced the new ranking system that I can’t give a positive rating to. Whilst it’s not awful, there’s not really a story going on and it takes until the final fifteen minutes for any semblance of a worthwhile plot to emerge, and by then it’s too late.
Jokesters spends too long establishing the characters and there is a good chance that by the time something starts happening, the majority of people will have turned off by then.
I wouldn’t say that it’s best to avoid the film all together if you come across it, but be prepared to sit there for more than an hour of the 72 minute run time (from the opening to the time the end credits start) without anything really happening.