Review: ‘Jane’ (2022), starring Madelaine Petsch, Chloe Bailey and Melissa Leo

September 2, 2022

by Carla Hay

Chloe Bailey and Madelaine Petsch in “Jane” (Photo courtesy of Creator+)

“Jane” (2022)

Directed by Sabrina Jaglom

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “Jane” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After her best friend commits suicide, a teenager in her last year of high school sees visions of her dead friend, who seems to inspire her to commit various crimes.

Culture Audience: “Jane” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching mediocre and predictable movies about teenage girls who are catty and obsessive.

Melissa Leo in “Jane” (Photo courtesy of Creator+)

Heinously using suicide as a story gimmick, “Jane” is the type of formulaic teenage drama movie that looks it could have been made as disposable Netflix content. Too many plot holes and unanswered questions ruin any credibility that “Jane” tries to have. It’s yet another movie about havoc wreaked by a selfish, immoral teen who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Expect to see “mean girl” scenes repeated to monotony in “Jane.”

“Jane” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Sabrina Jaglom (who co-wrote the “Jane” screenplay with Rishi Rajani), and it’s the second movie released by the Creator+ movie distribution company and streaming service. Creator+’s first movie is the romantic comedy “Diamond in the Rough,” released in June 2022. Based on these tepid movie offerings, Creator+ needs to come up with much better content that would be worth the price of a movie ticket. Everything about “Jane” looks like a made-for-TV movie.

“Jane” begins with the suicide of the movie’s title character. Jane (played by Chloe Yu), who is 17 or 18 years old, is seen jumping off of a plank overlooking a cliff. Jane attended a private high school in Los Angeles named Greenwood School for Girls, where the students are required to wear matching uniforms. It’s an elite prep school where students come from middle-class and upper-middle-class families. (“Jane” was actually filmed in New Mexico.)

Jane’s two closest friends at school—classmates Olivia Brooks (played by Madelaine Petsch) and Isabelle “Izzy” Morris (played by Chloe Bailey)—are devastated by Jane’s death, which happened at the beginning of the school year. Olivia and Izzy are both in their last year at Greenwood, and they both have high hopes to get into Stanford University, which is their first-choice university. During the course of the movie, Olivia and Izzy inflict mean-spirited bullying on people at their school, but Olivia is much more obsessive and more vindictive than Izzy is.

Olivia also has some serious mental health issues. Sometimes, when Olivia is overwhelmed with negative emotions, she faints. Throughout the movie, Olivia sees visions of Jane (who never says a word in the visions), usually right before Olivia does something cruel or illegal. Sometimes, Jane is seen silently encouraging Olivia to do something wrong, or Jane is seen doing something wrong, when in reality, Olivia is the one committing these acts.

You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that it’s Olivia’s way of projecting the worst parts of herself into her memory of Jane, in order for Olivia to psychologically disassociate herself from her own misdeeds. Olivia doesn’t come right out and say, “Jane made me do it,” because she never tells people that she sees Jane. (This isn’t a ghost horror story.) Instead, throughout the movie, Olivia pretends to be ignorant about certain things that Jane is seen on screen doing, but Olivia doesn’t want to admit that Olivia actually did these things.

Because the movie “Jane” is so transparent about this psychological duplicity, there’s no real suspense if you’ve seen these types of “bad girl with an alter ego” movies many times already. You already know that whatever nasty games Olivia is going to play, they’re going to escalate and get worse. And someone might end up physically hurt or dead. The only real curiosity might come from wondering how much Olivia will get away with and what will happen if anyone finds out her secrets.

“Jane” makes it looks like the mental unraveling of Olivia is triggered or aggravated because of Jane’s suicide and Olivia’s obsession to get into Stanford. However, it’s also suggested that Olivia’s mental health problems have existed long before her last year of high school, but Olivia has been able to hide these problems very well. When Olivia finds out that her application to Stanford has been deferred, she predictably has a minor meltdown about it. A sympathetic school counselor named Mrs. Billings (played by Ramona DuBarry) offers to work with Olivia to craft an appeal letter to Stanford’s admissions department.

Olivia is the captain of the school’s debate team, where she is accustomed to being the “queen bee.” But the arrival of a new transfer student named Camille Cortez (played by Nina Bloomgarden) threatens Olivia because Camille has experience as a school debater who went to a national competition. Greenwood’s debate team has only made it as far as a state competition. Camille gloats about this fact when talking to Olivia for the first time.

The teacher in charge of Greenwood’s debate team is an easygoing instructor named Mr. Richardson (played by Ian Owens), who wants Camille to possibly co-lead the debate team with Olivia. Not surprisingly, Olivia hates the idea and doesn’t want it to happen. Camille and Olivia predictably have a clash of egos, and they exchange thinly veiled insults at each other in their first conversation together in the debate classroom.

Camille tells Olivia, “I just think this team can really benefit from my leadership.” This comment sets Olivia over the edge. In full view of Mr. Richardson and other students, Olivia yells at Camille, “Fuck you!” And then Olivia faints. Even though Olivia later says she’s sorry for what happened, Mr. Richardson tells Olivia that she can’t participate in the team’s next debate, so that Olivia can take some time for self-care.

Olivia is very angry about this temporary suspension. And you know what that means: Olivia is going to find a way to get Camille out of the debate team. Olivia tells Izzy that Camille is a horrible person, in order to turn Izzy against Camille. Izzy and Olivia then find out that Camille left her previous school in New York because of a scandal where Camille accused a teacher of sexual misconduct. After an investigation by the school, the teacher was cleared of the accusation.

Olivia and Izzy don’t know the whole story, but Olivia comes up with the idea to create a fake online account to send unsettling messages to Camille about this scandal. They use a social media platform called Connect, which looks similar to Facebook. Olivia and Izzy’s plan is to make Camille so psychologically shaken, she won’t be able to concentrate, and she’ll fail on the debate team.

It just so happens that when Olivia and Izzy are hanging in Izzy’s bedroom, they find out that on Izzy’s laptop computer, Jane was using Connect and accidentally forgot to log out. Olivia and Izzy have the twisted idea to send the anonymous messages from Jane’s Connect account. Over time, their bullying from this account targets other people at the school.

One of the targets is a teacher named Mrs. West (played by Victoria Foyt), who gave Olivia a grade on an assignment that was below what Olivia wanted. Another person who becomes a victim of Olivia and Izzy’s wrath is a student named Josa (played by Kerri Medders), who begins dating a guy who broke up with Izzy. Olivia and Izzy’s revenge plot against Josa has much worse consequences than hurt feelings from anonymous social media messages.

Greenwood’s chief administrator Principal Rhodes (played by Melissa Leo) has a no-nonsense approach in interrogating the students at the school when the bullying gets out of control. But the movie’s biggest failing is that Olivia and Izzy are so obviously the prime suspects who would be the most likely to have access to the dead Jane’s Connect account. However, Olivia and Izzy don’t get the type of immediate scrutiny and suspicion from school authorities and other students that Olivia and Izzy would get if this were a story that happened in real life, not in a movie.

“Jane” also mishandles the issue of people’s Internet activities being easily traced by IP (Internet protocol) addresses if they don’t have a VPN service or another way of masking their IP address. Olivia and Izzy (who aren’t as smart as they think they are) don’t think about being exposed through IP address tracing until it’s too late, after they’ve already both logged on to Jane’s phantom account several times, using their own personal computer devices. This fear of being caught through their IP addresses becomes a subplot that eventually goes away in an implausible manner.

Another plot hole is in the investigation of something terrible that happened to Josa because of a deliberate action by Olivia and Izzy. In order for viewers to believe that Olivia and Izzy escaped suspicion, you’d have to believe that investigators wouldn’t think to ask Josa who could’ve possibly been responsible for the action that caused Josa serious harm. If investigators did ask Josa, she would most likely remember that the only two people who were with Josa right before this harmful incident were the same two people who gave something to Josa that caused this harmful incident. And those two people were Olivia and Izzy.

Olivia’s loving and supportive parents—Steve Brooks (played by Morse Bicknell) and Eleanor Brooks (played by Amie MacKenzie)—are oblivious to Olivia’s dark side and think she’s a good girl who’s grieving over the suicide of Jane. Olivia is an only child who has a lot of freedom to do what she wants when she’s home alone. Izzy’s parents or other family members are never shown in the movie. The movie’s big climatic scene is very problematic because it’s sloppily constructed and doesn’t take into account that DNA, fingerprints and cell phone tower records would place someone at the scene of a crime when that person claims not to have been there at all.

The cast members of “Jane” give adequate performances with their characters. Petsch (who is also one of the producers of “Jane”) has some chilling moments as the very emotionally disturbed Olivia. However, so much of “Jane” is a retread of “bad girls who pretend to be good” movies, there’s nothing in “Jane” that stands out as being completely original. “Jane” doesn’t sufficiently address all the mental health issues that the movie irresponsibly uses as plot devices. The ending of “Jane” might have been intended to be disturbing, but it really just looks like the filmmakers’ cheap and lazy way of leaving the possibility open that this forgettable movie could get a sequel.

Creator+ released “Jane” in select U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022. The movie premieres on Creator+ on September 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Do Not Reply,’ starring Amanda Arcuri and Jackson Rathbone

October 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kerri Medders, Jackson Rathbone, Elise Luthman and Amanda Arcuri in “Do Not Reply” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Do Not Reply”

Directed by Daniel Woltosz and Walter Woltosz

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror flick “Do Not Reply” has a predominantly white cast (with one African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 17-year-old girl is seduced online into meeting a stranger, who kidnaps her and holds her captive with other teenage girls. 

Culture Audience: “Do Not Reply” will appeal primarily to people who like watching bottom-of-the-barrel exploitation horror films.

Jackson Rathbone in “Do Not Reply” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The filmmakers of “Do Not Reply” must think that Lifetime hasn’t made enough “women in peril” movies where the killer has a thing for targeting cheerleaders. “Do Not Reply” has taken this cliché concept and has sunk it to new levels of badly filmed exploitation. And making things worse is that the pacing of this movie becomes so slow during much of the film that “Do Not Reply” is not only dreadful but it’s also excruciatingly dull. “Do Not Reply” has nudity and cursing in its attempt to be “edgier” than a Lifetime movie, but it uses the same template of any Lifetime movie about a psycho who wants cheerleaders to die.

Lazily written and directed by Walter Woltosz and his son Daniel Woltosz in their feature-film debut, “Do Not Reply” also rips off the same premise of any movie about a teenage girl who’s lured into a dangerous situation by a stranger online. The main character who’s the kidnapping victim in this story is a 17-year-old student in high school named Chelsea (played by Amanda Arcuri), who fits the predictable “good girl” virginal stereotype in horror movies like this one. Chelsea has been chatting online with a guy with the screen name VRCowboy, who claims to also be 17 years old, but anyone with a brain can see that he’s a much older man.

Chelsea has a friend named Mia (played by Ivon Millan), who’s exchanged nude photos of herself with a guy she wants to date named Dylan (played by Curran Walters), who’s also in high school and is a typical pretty boy who’s accustomed to girls having crushes on him. Chelsea is mildly horrified that Mia is so cavalier about sending nude photos to a guy who’s not even her boyfriend.

Chelsea asks Mia if she’s worried about Dylan showing Mia’s nude pics to his friends, and Mia shrugs it off and says she’s thought about it, but she naïvely thinks that Dylan wouldn’t do that. Meanwhile, Mia asks Chelsea if she wants to see the nude photo of Dylan’s penis that he sent to her, and Chelsea immediately says no. And with that, this movie checks off another cliché in stories about a virginal teenage female victim: She has a close friend who’s more “boy crazy” than she is.

Dylan has a close friend named Seth (played by Christian Hutcherson), who’s attracted to Chelsea. When Dylan invites Mia over to his place for a “party” at his house, Mia uses it as an excuse to bring Chelsea along to try and manipulate this situation into a “double date.” The “party” is really just Dylan, Mia, Chelsea and Seth, who all sit on a couch together.

It isn’t long before Dylan and Mia leave the room to go into a bedroom, thereby leaving Chelsea and Seth together on the couch. Seth makes a pass at Chelsea, who rebuffs his advances. The next day, when Chelsea tells Mia that Seth wanted Chelsea to give him oral sex, Mia’s response is that Chelsea should’ve done it. That tells viewers all they need to know about what kind of “friend” Mia is.

Meanwhile, Chelsea continues to chat with VRCowboy online, and they eventually get to talking on the phone. He tells her that his name is Brad (played by Jackson Rathbone) and they do some heavy flirting. Chelsea lies and tells Brad that she’s a cheerleader, so he asks her to send him a photo of herself in her cheerleader uniform. It just so happens that Chelsea’s snooty older sister Kristina (played by Savannah Kennick) is a cheerleader, who isn’t home at the time, so Chelsea borrows Kristina’s cheerleader uniform and poses for some flirty selfie photos that she sends to Brad.

As for Brad, he never sends her any photos of himself. And apparently, Chelsea never bothers to ask where she can find him on social media. It seems that he contacted her randomly by text and that’s how they “met” online. When Chelsea and Brad start doing video chats, his face is obscured and blurred-out on screen. His excuse is that the camera got damaged when he accidentally dropped his phone, and he hasn’t bothered to get it fixed.

Despite all of these red flags that Brad is a con artist, Chelsea becomes infatuated with Brad, because he says all of the right things to her. Based on the brief interactions that the movie shows Chelsea having with people close to her, it’s easy to see that she feels overshadowed by her popular sister Kristine, and Chelsea wants to experience dating the way that her friend Mia is experiencing dating. Instead of being comfortable with herself, Chelsea wants to be more like them.

These are the type of insecurities that sexual predators pounce on, and Chelsea is the type of victim who does everything that a predator hopes a victim will do. Brad makes arrangements to meet Chelsea in person. At first, he wants her to come over to his house alone, but she’s at least smart enough to say no. However, Chelsea doesn’t agree to go to Brad’s house mostly because she doesn’t drive and she thinks he lives too far away.

Instead, Brad and Chelsea agree to meet at a Halloween party that’s happening at an abandoned warehouse. Chelsea, who doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going, decides to go to the party dressed as a zombie cheerleader, while Brad goes as a zombie football player. This movie is so dumb that when Brad meets Chelsea at the party, he keeps his helmet on the entire time, and not once does she think it’s strange that he won’t show his face, nor does she ask him to take his helmet off. If Chelsea could see Brad’s face, she’d see that he’s definitely not 17. He’s actually in his 30s.

And then, when Brad gives her some fruity alcohol in a bottle, it’s very easy to know what’s going to happen next. The drink is drugged, of course, making it easy for Brad to put Chelsea in his car. Witnesses at the party who see Brad putting Chelsea in his car assume that she’s his drunk date, and he’s being a gentleman who’s giving her a ride.

Chelsea wakes up to find herself kidnapped and locked inside Brad’s house. And she’s got company: Three other girls who are around her age are there for the same reason: to satisfy Brad’s sick fetish for torturing and raping cheerleaders. It turns out that he has a twisted sexual obsession for someone in his past named Sadie, a blonde cheerleader who rejected him.

There are flashbacks to Brad’s encounters with Sadie (played by Nikki Leigh), who was close to Brad for a reason: Sadie was his sister. It’s not really a spoiler to reveal this information, because the only spoiler information for this utterly predictable movie is to reveal who survives and who doesn’t.

Brad has a computer room where he does his online predator activity. The room has a lot of technology, including video monitors for the surveillance cameras that are all over his house. Brad also has a virtual-reality system that comes with an elaborate headset where he watches videos of himself torturing his victims. Brad wants all of his victims to have blonde hair and wear cheerleader outfits, and he forces all of them to be called Sadie.

In addition to Chelsea, the three other kidnapping victims in the house are Meagan (played by Kerri Medders), who is the most brainwashed of the group because she’s convinced that she and Brad are in love; Heather (played by Elise Luthman), who tries to help Chelsea while pretending to obey Brad; and Tina (played by Ashlee Füss), who wants to escape too, but she’s severely injured from a leg wound and is confined to her bed.

Chelsea tries to escape soon after she gains consciousness, but Meagan stops her. Meagan wants to be Brad’s “favorite” so she’s immediately jealous of Chelsea as the “newcomer,” because she sees Chelsea as a potential threat for Brad’s “affections.” Meagan acts like a watchdog for Brad to make sure that the other kidnapping victims don’t try to escape.

Chelsea is a natural brunette, so one of the first things that Meagan tells Chelsea is that she has to dye her hair blonde. “Do Not Reply” is so badly made that instead of a dye job, an obvious, cheap-looking blonde wig is used for Chelsea. Why bother with mentioning a dye job when an unconvincing-looking wig is used instead? Why not just have a blonde wig in Brad’s house as an explanation and be done with it? It’s an example of how this movie insults viewers’ intelligence.

Another thing about the movie that doesn’t make sense is that later in the movie, Chelsea has access to a bottle of prescription medication in Brad’s house. Chelsea and Meagan are in charge of preparing the meals that everyone eats. Chelsea could’ve drugged Brad and Meagan with all that medication, and then found a way to escape by stealing Brad’s keys to the front door. It’s a huge plot hole that’s too big to ignore.

The movie takes a bizarre and dark turn when Chelsea commits a heinous act to impress Brad, in order to convince him that she’s fallen in love with him. It’s in this scene that “Do Not Reply” takes the point of no return, from being semi-suspenseful trash to being just trash. All of the acting is mediocre at best and downright embarrassing at worst. The only cast member who does a consistently adequate performance is Füss as Tina, but Tina is bedridden and doesn’t have much screen time in this horrible film that was obviously made to have young women running around looking terrified in cheerleader costumes.

“Do Not Reply” attempts to make itself look scarier than it really is, by having tacky-looking red lighting in the “torture room,” but it just looks like the back room of a low-rent strip club. And the movie tries to make Brad look like the VR headset version of “Halloween” villain Michael Myers. But because the “Do Not Reply” story is flimsy to begin with, the movie drags out in too many places.

Rathbone’s portrayal of Brad as a psycho villain isn’t convincing enough. Brad doesn’t look very menacing most of the time. Brad just looks constipated.

And at the end of the movie, there’s a statistic from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that states: “The average age of online enticement is 15 years old.” It’s as if the filmmakers tacked on this public-service announcement warning at the end of the movie to try to erase all the female exploitation in the movie. Too late. “Do Not Reply” is irredeemable garbage, and no PSA message at the end of the movie is going to get rid of the stink.

Gravitas Ventures released “Do Not Reply” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 2, 2020.

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