By Jude Cole (Portland, OR)


A mysterious figure, spectre or being is out in the woods and one man, the obsessive Jack (Timothy J. Cox) decides to build a device to capture whatever it may be. We see him gather materials, pieces of scrap and create his device, with glee and anticipation, but also with the focus and determination of Ahab.

Jack then lies in wait for his device to work, to ensnare his prey, whatever form it may be.

Is it Man vs. Man?
Man vs. Nature?
Man vs. Machine?

As we learn in Matthew Mahler’s intriguing 11 minute short What Jack Built, there’s a surprise in store for Jack.

The film, produced by 8mm Films and written by Mr. Mahler, (who for 17 years of age, shows great promise and poise) and his father Ross, is a fine example of independent/guerrilla-style filmmaking. That’s not to say that the film was done or looks cheap. Quite the contrary, Mr. Mahler and team have constructed a genuinely suspenseful short film, on a small budget, using mostly natural lighting, that is chock full of stakes and tensions, which builds marvelously throughout, bringing us to a conclusion where it keeps the audience wanting more; the mark of a great thriller. The documentary style cinematography that Mr. Mahler employs throughout only adds to the tension.


If you were to visit Mr. Mahler’s IMDB page, you’d be surprised, like I was, to learn that he is already a veteran of several short films, with participation in several festivals, including the acclaimed 48 Hour Film Project. There really is something to admire about someone who, at such a young age, can co-write a script, compose the music, direct the actors (in this case one actor), shoot and then edit the film. To me, it’s the perfect definition of independent; where you make your film YOUR way completely. It’s all you. Sure, you get all the blame if the film fails, but in Mr. Mahler’s case, he doesn’t have a failure with What Jack Built.

What makes Mr. Mahler’s film all the more tense and suspenseful is that there is not a single word of dialogue spoken in the film, so the responsibility for taking us through Jack’s journey and selling the film to audiences falls to one lone actor, in this case, indie short veteran Timothy J. Cox, who has given consistently great performances in a wide variety of roles, comedic and dramatic, for years and his performance here is again totally on point, energetic and lively, perfectly capturing the dystopian loner (complete with ratty clothes, goggles perched on his head and ever-present cigar). Cox presents us with an everyman driven only by his obsession and desire to capture this figure, apparition or beast. Cox and the Mahler’s have collaborated in the past, on the 2013 short Dark Romance.


The fact that we the audience never learn what exactly it is Jack is after may bother some, but the mystery kept this reviewer intrigued and entertained.

See it for yourself right here:

For information on the film, please look up the film on the Internet Movie Database.


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