The Jogger, the feature length debut from Jeff Robison and Casey Twenter, presents itself as a high concept film. From the title to a large portion of the trailer, the film seems built around the basic conceit of “what would happen if you went jogging and something bad happened?”. The actual film, though, dispenses with that high concept pretty quickly and presents the audience with something a bit more complex, and wholly more interesting.
The Jogger follows Paul, almost literally as the camera seems more to be more of an extension of Paul himself than an omnipotent observer, as he maneuvers a middle management life peppered with a bit of perfect suburban father and husband syndrome. This, of course, begins to fall apart in the ways you’d typically expect. Job troubles, adultery problems, you know, the usual. What sets The Jogger apart isn’t the plot points it manages to hit on the way to its inevitable conclusion, it is the skill in which those story elements are presented.
From the clever title sequence onward, The Jogger skillfully hints at its eventual conclusion. Subtle references and visual cues are peppered throughout the film with an obvious aptitude towards detail. The only issue is that these hints hinder the films final moments from being truly effective. It is not to say this film is tedious to watch, but the tension and surprises are tapered with a bit too much revelation of their narrative cards. This leads to a twist, that should be shocking, whose eventual conclusion most will see coming from the second act.
Perhaps their most overt narrative hint is the use of the good old unreliable narrator. While there is nothing innately wrong with this technique, lord knows it’s been used to great effect in cinema past, the road to successful usage is a prickly one. The main issues is that your unreliable narrator must seem completely reliable for a large portion of the story. In The Jogger, our narrator never seems entirely stable. From the opening moments we can see how unstable he really is. It could even be argued that the character himself realizes his own unreliability.
Strangely, this blatant choice to subvert the eventual twist is what makes The Jogger a success. While it does ruin the visceral portion of the narrative reveal, it also leaves with a troubling cognitive approach to what keeps the darker portion of any of us at bay. Where The Jogger seemingly fails on an adrenaline level, it more than makes up for with a presentation of the cold, frightening question of “who is a bad guy?”.
That question, and its execution, is what carries The Jogger through its running time. Where it may falter through some awkward exposition and obvious narrative hints, it succeeds on the level of a character study within a well crafted piece of cinema. This means that while The Jogger may not play out as the film it presents itself as, it does offer enough in the way of craft and theme to be a successful first feature from an obviously talented tandem.