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Jack Be Nimble Review

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Jack and Dora - twins separated as infants - are searching for each other. Jack's abused upbringing have spurred him to exact revenge on his foster family, while Dora's ESP means senses that Jack's life is in danger and she has to save him.

★★★★

If John Irving and Stephen King had collaborated to give us Garp and Carrie as twins separated at birth, they might well have come up with this strange New Zealand offering in which two children, Jack and Dora, lose their parents in odd circumstances and are split up. Dora is adopted by a nice middle-class couple, but still grows into a lonely adolescent pining for her lost brother.

After a school bullying incident, she develops ESP and, as an adult (Smuts-Kennedy), subsequently forms a relationship with another psychic (Lawrence). Jack, meanwhile, is taken to a farm and brutalised by monstrous foster parents and four savage step-sisters, growing into a maladjusted young man (Arquette) who invents a hypnosis machine which enables him to take bloody revenge.

The siblings get back together as young adults and search for their parents, but the marks of childhood brutality continue to warp their actions. To complicate matters, Jack's step-sisters set out to exact their own kind of justice.

Too many recent horror novels and films have taken child abuse as a theme, usually descending into areas of distasteful exploitation, but few have been as offbeat as this deeply weird melodrama. With bizarre major plot points simply left unexplained, it certainly has a nightmarish, disjointed feel, but writer-director Maxwell, aided by excellent lead performances, also manages to make this at once affecting, funny and horrifying. Deeply warped, Jack and Dora are still sympathetic and credible, trapped in a childhood that has segued from fairytale to nightmare.

Not a film likely to please everyone, but strong stuff nonetheless.