A story of revenge from beyond the grave, centering on a group of teenagers who unknowingly supply the catalyst for the murdered Jonah’s return from the grave. A day like any other in a town not unlike that found all across the country, like minded teens hanging out, laughing, enjoying each other’s company. When the darkness takes over the day and boredom sets in, they retreat to their basement hangout. Francis, the self-imposed leader of the group, a wannabe mystic, decides to play with their heads and breaks out a Spirit Board. Eagerly the game is played and soon they make contact with the tormented spirit of Jonah. They begin to ask questions and soon learn how, when, and why Jonah was murdered in his lifetime. Mocking Tony, who warns them that it is a dangerous game to play, they make the choice of their young lives when they participate together in summoning Jonah beseeching him to come to them through the spirit board.
Luis Carvalho was a boy with a dream. As teenager, his ambition was to become a filmmaker, but life got in the way when he started a family and worked to support them. His goal was put on the back burner but never abandoned. Finally, after several false starts over some 30 years, his dream has been realized with Jonah Lives, on which he serves as director, writer, producer and editor.
The film surrounds a group of teenage friends who get more than bargain for when an innocent night of fun turns into a foray into the dark arts. There’s Barbara (Jocelyn Padilla), the final girl; Francis (Ryan Boudreau), her cocky boyfriend; Nicole LaSala (Lydia), the friend in whom Barbara confides; Tony (James Barrett), Nicole’s religious beau; and Jessie (Aaron Peaslee) and Johnny (Rob Roy), rounding out the bunch mostly for comedic relief.
When the group can’t agree on how to end their boredom on a stormy night – the girls want truth or dare while the boys would rather strip poker – Francis takes the reigns. He suggests they attempt to contact the spirit world using his purportedly real Ouija board. Everyone is willing, with the exception of Tony. He opposes, upset with the idea of being involved with the devil. He sits the game out, but that doesn’t stop the rest of gang from playing with the board.
It’s not long before they make contact with the spirit of Jonah (Cesar Pereira), a tormented man who was killed by his wife. He seeks vengeance, and being contacted through the spirit board is just the impetus he needs to return from the dead. Upon resurrection, he comes after the teens, who are trapped in a basement while their oblivious parents have a bizarre party of their own upstairs.
By definition, Jonah is a zombie, in that he is a reanimated corpse. (One of the best shots of the film features him crawling out of his grave after a nice Evil Dead homage.) Beyond that, however, the plot largely follows the slasher formula: teens are killed off one-by-one in a variety of ways. It’s not the most original story, but it works.
Russell Estrela’s score particularly stands out. I was surprised to learn that Jonah Lives is his first film credit, as he perfectly captured the essence of 80s scores without feeling dated. The movie has its fair share of atmosphere and scares, but the soundtrack really brings them to life. All of the technical aspects are above average for an independent, low budget film. It’s well shot with fine cinematography. Jonah’s make-up looks great. Despite mostly being young and inexperienced, the actors are solid. It doesn’t hurt that scream queen Brinke Stevens (Slumber Party Massacre) plays a jilt named Zora, clearly having a blast with the role.
Jonah Lives is not just a successful horror film, but it serves as proof that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Luis Carvalho crafted a fine cinematic debut, and I hope that it acts as a springboard for more to come.
Jonah Lives (2012)