This is one of those cases where it really pays to read more than a two sentence description of a film, or even to watch a trailer.
On paper, a film about a world where “violent misfits reign supreme” sounds intriguing. Add an opening shot where a badass group of armored warriors with guns and swords led by a woman wearing shoulder pads – looking like the cover of a black metal album – running to save a young man who just jumped through a plate glass window can easily fool you into being excited about Jessica Forever. Unfortunately, the actual film is just plain boring, a dull story with absolutely nothing to say that could have been a nifty short instead of a feature.
We learn that the world – or at least the French government – has stripped orphans of all their rights, forcing them to go into a flee or fight state where they are hunted down and killed by a special task force made of thousands of drones, or kill, loot, and destroy everything they come across. Why is this happening? Why do we only see male orphans around? The film provides no answers whatsoever, nor any compelling reason not to give us the answers, as this feature debut of Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel tries to be more about character than story, but without a single interesting character.
Our main entry point into the group of orphans is Kevin, a burglar who is saved from the special task force by the group, and adopted as one of their own. We spend most of the first part of the film with Kevin as he familiarizes himself with the weird cult-like rituals of the group, most notably their group nap time. But then Kevin dies after about 30 minutes, and the story shifts focus to two of the brothers – none of which we really know, and both looking too creepy to make us care – and the setting moves to a weird residential area on an island, where the orphans will start interacting with regular people, which brings problems to the entire family.
Despite having a premise promising action or a devastated dystopian world, we don’t see anything inherently bad about the world of Jessica Forever. We are told that orphans are hunted, but outside of Kevin, we don’t see them being on the run, and civilization looks just fine. Instead, we are stuck having to listen to endless conversations between uninteresting characters. Even the titular Jessica is relegated to barely a cameo, uttering less than 10 lines in the film. We don’t know who she is. Or why she makes the boys take a nap all together in the same room. Or why she takes 10 men into her home. We only hear about her through voice-over narration told by other members of the group, and the way they describe her sound like a cult leader than the Wendy to their Lost Boys. Add a few inexplicable visits from dead siblings and you have a movie that could have been weird in a great way, but ends up just being confusing and dull.
Jessica Forever starts up with a promising premise that it abandons after 5 minutes. Instead, we are stuck with a band of brothers that we never get to know, led by a woman we know nothing or care about. This is a film that tries to be both a Hollywood YA franchise, and a French avant-garde experiment, but fails at both. The film builds anticipation towards a boiling point that will result in a bloody fight, yet it is completely devoid of an ending – just when we are about to see some action, the movie ends. Kind of fitting for a film that feels like it never really got started.