It is only fitting that David Lynch’s new short film What Did Jack Do? opens with the phrase: ”Absurda”.
The word ‘absurd’ perfectly sums up much of the filmmaker’s work. But even deeper than that, Absurda is a short film Lynch created way back in 2007 centered around disturbing images on a theater projector, one which evoked the same experimental dream-like feel of his avant-garde masterpiece and debut film Eraserhead. Lynch’s newest short embraces Absurda and Eraserhead’s stylistic cues to bring us yet another impressively bizarre experimental oddity – one which fans of the idiosyncratic writer-director can only hope leads the way to another feature film from him rooted in nightmarish surrealism.
17 minutes in length, What Did Jack Do? centres on a homicide detective (Lynch) who has tracked down a suspect of murder and tries to retract a confession. But, as typical with the filmmaker’s movies, nothing about the situation is straightforward as our suspected killer is actually … a capuchin monkey. Shot in black and white with the setting of a train station cafe, a truly strange interrogation ensues.
What Did Jack Do? is a very odd little movie. But what else could you expect from one of the masterminds of body horror and surrealist cinema? In the opening moments shared between the detective and Jack the monkey, the question looms over whether this animal can speak or not. The answer is a resounding yes. This, coupled with Lynch’s penchant for monochrome visuals that bring to mind Eraserhead, makes What Did Jack Do? definitely unique viewing, although maybe not essential.
Our little monkey antagonist is conniving throughout. Almost every answer he gives to this detective’s strange probing is rooted firmly in incoherence, each spoken sentence sounding like a catchphrase or metaphor. It’s interesting if somewhat unrewarding at times and Lynch doesn’t do much to shake things up throughout. However, the brilliance of this short lies in the comedic deliveries of both Jack and this detective.
Much of the dialogue and the way it is performed is hilarious. Yet, it is hard to know whether Lynch intended this, given his regular neglect of fundamental filmmaking components in his movies. Whatever his intention, What Did Jack Do? plays out like some sort of 60’s tinged theatre play, with both Lynch’s detective and Jack the monkey (apparently playing himself going by the short’s credits) hamming it up for the audience in the best way imaginable.
Jack even provides us with a weird and wonderful song that would seem completely out of place were it not for the strange atmosphere What Did Jack Do? excels at. Its attention to off kilter comedy feels weirdly refreshing from Lynch given his devotion to morbid atmosphere in movies like Lost Highway or his critically acclaimed television masterpiece Twin Peaks.
A scene involving a café waitress (Emily Stofle) and her delivery of exposition provides probably the only coherent moment in the entirety of the short’s runtime. As she discusses the possibility of a killer on the loose and the fear it induces within her, Lynch’s film becomes human and recognisable for a brief moment. Yet, it isn’t long before the short once again delves into the surreal and unstable.
From there, What Did Jack Do? moves along quickly until its end, providing us with some interesting moments, many chuckles and a definite climax – something missing from many of Lynch’s works. While it may be a difficult one to recommend to the masses unfamiliar with its director, there is a huge amount to admire within this minor gem. As always, Lynch confidently creates something truly unique, the reason diehard fans of the auteur can’t help but revisit and obsess over his output. Hopefully this little short will be a step towards a new feature length film from the writer-director. The world needs more depraved celluloid nightmares like Eraserhead and with the mass attention and support of Netflix, What Did Jack Do? could be the road to that.