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I guess I just like liking things

“Jennifer’s Shadow” is a horror thriller mystery, and I am watching it right before bed because I am incredibly hard core. It’s another one of those movies with two names, this one is also known as “Chronicle of the Raven.” You can make your own “That’s so Raven” joke here.

Inside a large, dark house, a raven is watching a woman wheel herself along the landing in a wheelchair. A portrait of a stern faced woman seems to look down upon her. As soon as she gets to the stairs, she’s on her feet, dashing down them with all haste. The wheelchair is probably so she can get those parking spots right outside the door, the dodgy cow. She’s all pale and sweaty and jumping at shadows and odd noises. A door slams, the raven cries and the lass is dragged up the stairs by some kind of grumbling monster. She screams as the raven pecks a voodoo doll. The symbolism is strong with this one.

The credits roll over shots of old buildings in Buenos Aires and a girl in a car, filmed in extreme close up so we get a fingernail, or an eye at a time. She’s either sad, or she’s got an upset stomach. We’ll find out if she stops for some antacid. The car is a taxi, which stops outside the big dark house. It’s day time now, so the house is just big. Now we’ve seen all of this lady at once, I can tell you she looks just like the screaming woman because the screaming woman is this woman’s twin sister. Stay with me here. The woman is met by a maid and introduces herself as Jennifer. The maid doesn’t speak English, but some guy named Roberto does he translates, explaining that Jennifer’s grandmother will be surprised to see her. A shadow flits by the attic window as Jennifer gazes up at it moodily.

Inside the house, Jennifer looks up at the painting of the stern woman and says “Hello Grandmother” even though it’s clearly a painting and not an actual person. Roberto tells her that Aunt Emma is upstairs, but everyone else is at the funeral. In no rush to go to the cemetery and attend the funeral of her sister, Jennifer goes upstairs to see her Aunt. Aunt Emma is laying in her bed looking like she’s already died. Seeing as she’s terribly ill, Emma confuses Jennifer with Johanna who is the dead one (keep up) and asks her to leave the light on.

Ah, Roberto was Johanna’s boyfriend. He points to the attic and says “That’s where my Johanna was found dead, no one is allowed up there.” Jennifer points out she saw someone at the window and Roberto tells her it’s impossible. He doesn’t really understand what impossible means, people can go upstairs and hover about in windows without any trouble at all. The raven turns up and Jennifer is told by the maid that it’s Grandmother’s lucky bird. Roberto translates in this case, but the maid understands “Get my room ready” with no trouble and hello Jennifer, would it kill you to say please? Maybe it would, she’s staring at the bird as though she should have stopped for antacid after all.

Wandering downstairs, Jennifer tells Roberto that she doesn’t understand how Johanna died. Roberto is quite clued up on their family history, telling her it’s the same thing that killed her parents and is killing Aunt Emma. “But!” says Jennifer, but Roberto has already changed the subject to the inheritance papers. He’s not terribly upset for a guy that just lost his girlfriend to a hideous disease. Jennifer perks up at the thought of an inheritance, realising the house probably belonged to Johanna and would pass to her. Roberto tells her that their grandmother has lived in the house for 10 years, ever since Johanna got sick. Which means Johanna was sick for 10 entire years and Jennifer never bothered to find out what was wrong with her. Jennifer is giving me the irrits.

I’m having to rewind a lot to understand this actress, by the way. “This house belonged to my sister, right?” sounded like “Did the hospital ring my sister right?” and “Aunt Emma” sounds like “An enema.” I’m not sure if she’s doing this as the character or if she skipped enunciation day at drama school.

The guy in front doesn't even realise he's carrying a coffin

The guy in front doesn’t even realise he’s carrying a coffin

Jennifer has decided it’s time to go to the cemetery. She has not rushed in order to make it to the funeral on time, having changed her outfit and redone her makeup. An old man hovers around outside the chapel, I think he’s supposed to be somehow ominous but he just looks like he’s turned up for a funeral on the wrong day. Grandmother (who is smooth faced and youthful and may or may not have a bulldog clip under her hair to hold her face skin tight) is apologising to Johanna’s coffin, and is stunned to see Jennifer lurking around. Grandmother leads a wobbly looking Jennifer out to follow the coffin to the grave. The pall bearers look bored out of their skulls. Grandmother wants to know who informed Jennifer of Johanna’s death, so I guess she didn’t give her a call. Roberto’s earlier comment of “Everyone else being at the funeral” turned out to be a lie, there’s only the three of them and the bored guys carrying the coffin. Of course it might be that everyone else left because they had other things to do that didn’t involve waiting for a self absorbed brat to turn up to her sister’s funeral.

Inside the family crypt, Grandmother tells Johanna to rest in peace with her parents. “She’s not resting, she dead” says Jennifer. Bereft of life she rests in peace, I guess (Dead Parrot sketch anyone? No? Okay). Back at the house, Jennifer worries about the rest of the family dying. She’s not at all worried about the fact she’s wearing flares in 2004. “Don’t go to sleep, Jennifer” says Grandmother, “Life is short.” Jennifer tells Grandmother that Johanna had put the house in Jennifer’s name. Grandmother is shocked at how quickly Jennifer wants to take over the house to which Jennifer replies “Johanna doesn’t need it anymore, I do.” She is less than heartbroken at the death of her twin. Grandmother retires upstairs complaining that she’s feeling sick and Jennifer gets all catty about the will.

Now she’s a home owner, Jennifer wanders slowly around the house, gazing upon all her new loot. Her expression flickers from thoughtful to sad and back to thoughtful via slight headache. She finds a bunch of drawings of the raven on an easel, one of them shows the raven pecking the innards out of a lady and I think it’s supposed to be special lady innards (I mean uterus). There’s also a painting of the stairs leading to the attic, because it probably gets boring just drawing massive psychotic ravens all the time.

Drawn by invisible forces, Jennifer approaches the attic door, climbing the stairs as though she’s going to the gallows (I’m quite pleased with that phrasing, feel free to read it again). The door is locked so she turns away, missing the shadows flitting around in the light under the door.

In her bedroom, Jennifer changes out of her funeral garb. There is the sound of a key in the lock and she tries the door handle to find her bedroom door is locked. Frustrated, she goes to bed and falls asleep instantly even though Grandmother told her not to. The door to her room opens with a standard horror movie creak and she wakes. Slowly, she creeps forward toward the pitch black hallway as the raven flaps around the room, casting a huge shadow. Jennifer wakes for real this time, it was only a mediocre nightmare. I’ve had scarier nightmares and I’m not even under any freaky family curse that I know of.

Grandmother is having breakfast downstairs. Jennifer demands to know why the door was locked and is told it’s a house rule. “I make the rules here” says Granny, sipping her tea. “Those rules are gunna change when we get back from the layers” says Jennifer, though she means lawyers.

Outside the lawyer’s office, Grandmother storms off. Jennifer tells Roberto she’s planning to sell the house and return to the States, which she has to do because she has an important audition coming up. She flirts a little with Roberto because it’s not at all crass to flirt with the boyfriend of your recently dead sister. Grandmother has taken to her bed, and Jennifer gets all catty again and takes a lot of pleasure in making an old lady cry. She tells her grandmother she’s going to buy an apartment for Aunt Emma even though Aunt Emma will probably be dead soon, and that Grandmother can stay there too.

The elderly man from the cemetery has turned up to inspect the house. He says he’s a retired doctor and Jennifer demands to know if he has a pension. She’s a random young lady this one. He tells her he’s discovered a more gratifying profession and judging by the fact the raven is going crazy in the next room it’s probably something like exorcism. He discovered the library and tells Jennifer the books are rare and valuable. The dollar signs in her eyes are obvious. Also his name is Dario Bardevil, make of that what you will.

In one of the bedrooms, Bardevil finds a raven feather. He does the obvious thing which is sniff it and then shove it in his pocket before fleeing down the stairs. By the front door, he asks Jennifer if she’s been having nightmares. Jennifer reacts as though he’s asked her to murder a puppy and demands he leave the house. He wanders off, offering help should she need it. He says he’s at the cemetery all the time, as it’s the only place where “they” can’t hear us.

Night falls, and Aunt Emma is awake and terrified. Jennifer’s door opens again and she finds herself tied to her bed. She thrashes about a bit before the raven lands on her belly and starts to peck out her insides. She wakes with a nosebleed. It was another nightmare. Now she’s in hospital, with Roberto stroking her hair. The doctor tells her she’s been unconscious for a while, but her grandmother has visited. Jennifer’s make up is perfect and she looks nothing like a woman who’s been unconscious for a while. Roberto says Grandmother asked him not to tell Jennifer the truth, but he can’t repeat the mistake he made with Johanna. Jennifer has the same disease, which is something to do with the body eating itself. She’s already missing a kidney which is careless. It seems a very specific sort of eating itself body disorder, organ by organ.

Jennifer discharges herself from the hospital and marches off to the cemetery. She wanders around a bit looking all wistful and wibbly and then Mr Bardevil turns up. He’s digging a grave. This is his more gratifying profession because he feels if he can still dig a grave it means he doesn’t need one. It’s logical, I’ll give it that. They wander off to Bardevil’s office and he tells Jennifer that he’s been studying the illness that has been killing her family. He hasn’t been able to find a reason or cause for it, but knows that it’s things that live in the shadows and feed on living humans. That would be both a reason and a cause. I’m just saying. Anyway, he works at the cemetery because “They” don’t go there, they need living people to eat.

Bardevil tells Jennifer of someone he knew who suffered 13 years in agony as a result of having a lung problem. “In the end, I had to burn him, to end his agony.” If you ever need a conversation stopper, that’s quite a good one. Jennifer is freaked out and wanders off, but Bardevil calls to her “Do they appear as ravens perhaps? Don’t you wake up in the morning feeling that something has been chewing on your intestines?” We’ve all had mornings like that though, it’s hardly conclusive. He directs her to the well stocked library and she glares at him and tells him he’s a crazy person. This would be standard template 48: “Old person with insights dismissed as crazy by main character.”

Back at the house, Grandmother is flopping about in her bed looking anguished. Jennifer shouts through the door that now she’s dying she absolutely has to sell the house and return to LA to find a cure. Grandmother attempts an evil smile, but frankly Faye Dunaway has had a lot of plastic surgery and it doesn’t quite work. Jennifer walks away, but is spooked by the old fashioned wooden and wicker wheelchair and goes to her room instead. It’s taken her a long time to get to her bedroom because it’s night time now. Jennifer displays her special skill of falling asleep instantly and the door opens again. Aunt Emma wheels her wheel chair into the room and looks terrified and weak. “Come on,” says Jennifer, “let me take you back to your room.” At this Aunt Emma looks like she might pass out with fear but Jennifer has already established a severe lack of people skills, so she wheels the old lady down the hall anyway. As they pass the stairs to the attic, Aunt Emma grips the wheels to stop the chair and begins to cry. Jennifer peels Emma’s hands off the wheels and takes her back to her room regardless.

Jennifer tucks Aunt Emma into bed and tells her to get some sleep. Emma begins to cry again and whispers “Don’t sleep” but Jennifer is just over this crap and leaves her to freak out alone. She wanders to the library to look through the books for answers. They’re all mystical tomes with fancy diagrams and odd languages. Thankfully, the book she needs is on the top of the pile and she finds it within a minute. It’s about the Malam Rites and the first page shows a girl being pecked by a raven. There’s another picture further in, marked with a raven’s feather. Jennifer tears the page out and the ex-library worker in me sheds a tear.

Upstairs, the attic door swings open and Aunt Emma screams. Deciding she cares now, Jennifer dashes upstairs to find Emma dead in her bed. The following morning she asks her grandmother what’s going on with all these people dying of the same thing. “Disaster is so random” says Grandmother before glaring at the maid for some reason. “Why is the attic locked?” Jennifer asks. “It was Johanna’s room, I want to keep it as she had it.” Jennifer does some eye rolling and strides out to the waiting taxi. “This is your family’s house!” screams Grandmother “You can’t leave your family!”

Roberto and Jennifer are walking in the park. Jennifer shows him the page she tore out of the book and tells him her grandmother is a witch. Roberto disagrees and Jennifer asks him why she’s the only one to not get this weird disease. Roberto says Johanna never said anything about the Grandmother, but that Grandmother was very kind about Johanna’s disease. “She’ll kill us all to keep the house,” says Jennifer. Absolutely everything she says is in a really snotty tone and I won’t miss her when the raven eats her whiny face off.

The pair travels through the city in another taxi, allowing the editor to reuse the earlier shots of city streets. Two minutes ago Jennifer was striding around the park being argumentative, but between scenes someone has painted some dark make up under her eyes so now she’s all wispy and weak. She asks Roberto for some money so she can leave down. Roberto gives her a cuddle because hey why not? The taxi is passing under some flashing lights and Jennifer looks over to see her Grandmother in the seat beside her before a raven swoops down and makes her cough a lot. Looking down she sees a gaping bloody hole in her chest and then she wakes up again. She does some unconvincing coughing and finds her hand full of blood. Roberto directs the taxi to the hospital.

In the hospital, Roberto tells Jennifer to get some sleep but she totally can’t because “something really bad will happen.” Aunt Emma, see, told her not to sleep and Roberto thinks Jennifer is too upset by Emma’s death which just goes to show how he doesn’t know Jennifer at all. She doesn’t get upset by people dying, she gets upset by people saying good morning to her. The doctor comes to see her and tells her that her lungs are full of holes. She tells them it’s raven peck marks and they don’t try to drug her and cart her off to the psych ward so maybe everyone in Buenos Aires has ravens eating them at night. I don’t know how she’s breathing with lungs full of holes but I am not a doctor.

Grandmother arrives at the hospital with her maid who is wheeling the big old wheel chair. She draws the curtain back and pulls a face which could indicate that Jennifer is gone or the maid has run over her foot with the big wheelchair. Turns out to be the former, because Jennifer has run into the house. Running now, with her broken lungs. She’s surprisingly sturdy. She strides up the stairs toward the attic and the door swings open as she stands there. She’s panting now, either through fear or because her lungs are all ruined. Having made it this far, now she’s gone all floppy and weak. She drags herself to the attic as Grandmother returns to the house.

In the attic, Jennifer finds a bed with leather straps on the ends like the one she had a nightmare about. The sheets are either bloody or just really dirty, but the mattress is soaked in blood. The blood is the bright red of very fresh blood but I suspect it’s supposed to be Johanna’s blood and bright red looked better than dark brown. There’s a voodoo doll hanging in a birdcage with holes pecked in it. On the bottom of the cage are other voodoo dolls representing Emma and Johanna and probably the dead parents too. Grandmother storms up the stairs to the attic. Jennifer hides in a box but the raven finds her. Instead of looking in the box, Grandmother picks up the bird and tells it off for letting Jennifer escape. While she’s ticking the bird off, Jennifer runs out of the room, locking the door and stealing her grandmother’s car.

From a phone box, Jennifer calls Roberto but he’s not home. She’s leaving a message on his machine but when she looks up he’s standing outside the phone booth. Grandmother has called him to tell him where Jennifer is and he’s all sad that Jennifer left her grandmother who needs her so much. They’re back in the park and Roberto is trying to convince Jennifer to go back to the house. Jennifer is sad because Roberto only wants to help Grandmother and not her.

Back at the cemetery, Jennifer finds Bardevil in his office which is basically just a crypt with a kettle in it. Jennifer fills him in on the dolls in the birdcage and Bardevil asks if she killed the raven. She didn’t, so Bardevil tells her that her only chance of living is to move to the cemetery. Jennifer tells him she can’t do that because dead people are creepy and Bardevil offers to dig her a custom grave. “When I sell the house, I will give you everything” Jennifer says. “I don’t want everything, I want the demon” says Bardevil. He promises to help her, but warns that her sanity might be at risk.

Bardevil drags a coffin out of one of the wall slots. “To diagnose the patient, you have to examine the patient” he tells Jennifer, and presses his ear to the coffin. Jennifer hasn’t got time for this, and flips the lid of the box open with a shovel. Inside is Johanna, looking as fresh as a daisy and staring up at Jennifer with wide open eyes. Bardevil announces that the family is cursed, and makes Jennifer poke around her sister’s body. He wasn’t wrong about the sanity at risk thing. As Jennifer stares into her sisters cold dead eyes the eyes flicker toward her and Jennifer has a panic attack. Bardevil tells her it’s living death caused by the Malan Ritual and so Johanna and the parents and probably Aunt Emma are all sitting around in coffins suspended between life and death.

Jennifer is devastated about this which is a sudden change in character for her. Bardevil says they can only do one thing, and that is sterilise the infection. He has a furnace handy for just such an occasion and he wheels the coffin over to it. Johanna screams in agony as the flames take her. I can’t help but wonder why Bardevil didn’t suggest Jennifer leave for this bit. “I’m about to burn your sister alive, you might want to step out for a coffee or something.” It’s just manners, Bardevil. He drags out the rest of her family and burns them up too, explaining as he does so exactly which member of her family he is burning.

Now that everyone is burned up, the pair drive to the house. Jennifer dozes off in the car and the raven appears. Bardevil shakes her awake and gives her a telling off for falling asleep. At the house, three cars drive out of the gate on their way to Emma’s funeral even though it’s the middle of the night. Bardevil says he has a bad feeling about this, and Jennifer stomps her little foot and makes him get out of the car.  As they prepare for the whatever it is they’re about to do, Jennifer asks Bardevil to burn her if she dies. He doesn’t agree, sending her upstairs to fetch the voodoo dolls instead. Jennifer enters the house, freaking out again at the sight of the wheelchair. In the attic, the raven is attacking the voodoo doll which has been stuffed with meat in order to make the raven peck it. Jennifer faints and when she wakes she finds something on her neck. It might be blood, but the shot is very dark so it could also be a small caterpillar. You never know.

The lighting is a bit better in the attic and we can see it is indeed blood. Instead of a voodoo doll in the cage there is a beating heart. Jennifer looks at her chest to see a hole where her heart should be. She takes the heart from the cage and staggers downstairs with it. I’m going to assume this bit is a nightmare because I don’t understand how it works otherwise.  Bardevil is preparing the ground outside with prayer and holy water. He dashes inside in time to see Jennifer being dragged upstairs. He follows her upstairs, and by the time he reaches her, she’s bound to the bed with the straps, clutching a voodoo doll in her hand. Bardevil carries her downstairs. He does so very slowly, giving someone ample time to slash his back with a knife. Undeterred, he exits the house and declares the ground the house is on as a cemetery before collapsing. There is a scream from inside the house. Jennifer wakes up and finds Bardevil dying. He sends her back to the cemetery to find grandmother who is flailing around on Emma’s coffin. Jennifer shows her the dead raven and grandmother flails some more.

The Malan Ritual does not work on hands.

The Malan Ritual does not work on hands.

They argue, with grandmother offering to teach Jennifer how to do the ritual so she can have everything she desires. Jennifer responds with possibly the best line in this or any other Dire DVD: “I want my organs back!” Grandmother declines this request by way of a shovel to the spine. She’s getting weak already without her magical raven and she has the family trait of unconvincing coughing. After giving Jennifer another taste of the shovel, this time to the belly, Grandmother tells her the process cannot be reversed and she’s not even a bad person because she was going to die if she didn’t kill her entire family. Before passing out, Grandmother asks to return to the house.

Grandmother regains consciousness and Jennifer tells her she’s at the house, but really she’s in a coffin. With a last catty glare, Jennifer pushes Grandmother into the furnace. Even though she’s burning to death, Grandmother gives quite a long speech about how she’ll always be with Jennifer in her dreams.

At the house again, Jennifer buries her Aunt’s ashes in the newly consecrated ground. Roberto is hanging around as she locks the gate and he leads her away, wrapping his arms around her and kissing the back of her head, twins being interchangeable girlfriends to him. “You will be able to come back” he tells her. “Nevermore” she says. Because of the raven thing, see.

In a white bed, Roberto and Jennifer make love. Afterwards, they fall asleep and Jennifer has another nightmare about birthing a raven “Aliens” style through her belly. When she wakes, everything seems fine so she goes back to sleep. Later Roberto wakes to find them both sleeping in a pool of blood. Jennifer is dead, but not dead because of the living death thing. Since Bardevil is dead now there’s no one to burn her so she’s going to be sat in the coffin forever. Grandmother turns up again because burning her didn’t work. I’m not even going to comment on the fact that people seem to be perfectly cheerful burying a woman who is still looking around and blinking. “Sweet dreams” says Grandmother and the credits roll.

The story was potentially quite good, the idea of a dying old lady getting herself all mixed up in freaky rituals in order to save her life was a promising one. The horror of the ending is supposed to be knowing Jennifer would be locked in her coffin for eternity in her living death, but to be honest the character of Jennifer was so deeply awful that I just don’t care. Sucks to be you, Jennifer, but I won’t lose sleep.

From the outset, Jennifer wandered through the movie whining, complaining, arguing and basically being an unbearably obnoxious brat. She honestly didn’t care a jot about her sister being dead and everything else that happened was treated as just an intrusion on her time. She only cared that Aunt Emma died because it meant she would die too, and even when asking Bardevil for help she was a brat about it.   The fact she was going through scary crazy stuff wasn’t an issue because I just didn’t like her and was hanging out for her to be ravened to death. There was not a scrap about her to warm to, she spoke to no one apart from Aunt Emma with anything approaching affection or friendliness and even with Aunt Emma she was too absorbed in her own stomping entitlement that she ignored the fear and pain of the old lady.

Bardevil was quite good, but terribly generic. An old guy with knowledge of the dark arts dedicated to the hunting of demons or whatever has turned up in so many movies it’s just a cliche now. When Jennifer initially dismisses him as a crazy old man, you can basically set a timer until his return to save the day. His lines were peppered with deep thinks about demons and death which I won’t bother to type out because they were generated by special software when someone typed it “Old guy with demonic insights.”

The entire concept of Roberto falling in love with the twin sister of his dead girlfriend is so unbelievably skeevy I can’t even articulate it. The whole time it was pretty much a case of “Well, she looks the same, that’ll do.” I have trouble with he idea anyone would fall for snotty Jennifer anyway – perhaps I haven’t been clear but I didn’t like her.  I feel sad for Roberto though, he should have started with triplets then he’d have one in reserve now Jennifer is all living dead in a coffin.


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