Armed with the same unflinching gaze Lukas Moodysson’s “Lilya 4-Ever” trained on the sordid world of sexual slavery, low-budget Aussie thriller “The Jammed” is an honorable addition to the small number of films tackling the topic seriously. Centered on an ordinary young woman-turned-rescuer of victims, pic’s integrity and committed performances should spark strong fest interest and generate discussion of a supremely ugly subject. Producers are planning a simultaneous DVD and hardtop domestic release on Aug. 15, with expert marketing and critical support crucial for a shot at commercial success.
First feature in a decade by South African scripter-helmer Dee McLachlan couldn’t be further removed from previous entries including “The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli and Baloo” (1997), attributed to Duncan McLachlan. Now living as a woman, McLachlan has fashioned this urgent essay from Australian court transcripts, official reports and other factual information.
The “jammed” are three vulnerable young women lured to Melbourne on the promise of big money working as table dancers. The reality: forced prostitution to repay usurious fees charged for their falsified immigration papers. Events open with Crystal (Emma Lung) awaiting deportation after escaping from a sexual slavery syndicate that’s also ensnared Chinese innocent Rubi (Sun Park) and Vanya (Saskia Burmeister), a brittle Russian.
Urging the frightened girl to tell officials everything is Ashley Hudson (Veronica Sywak), a local office worker whose involvement unfolds in a busy series of flashbacks and fast-forwards. Stuttering initially with too many characters and side stories, narrative moves to firmer ground as Ashley comes into focus. Stuck in a boring insurance job and carrying emotional baggage following a recent split with her b.f., she’s drawn into the seedy scene by a chance meeting with Rubi’s distraught mother, Sunee (Amanda Ma), who’s flown in on a hopeless rescue mission.
With police contact out of the question for fear of reprisals against family, Ashley decides the only decent thing to do is take an active role. Keenly written and performed to stab at viewers’ consciences, the character’s transformation is a gradual and convincing one.
Interspersed with sometimes shocking scenes of degradation and the twisted Stockholm-like symbiosis of captives and captors, pic is both an effective lone-wolf thriller and a uniformly impressive female performance piece. Slight letdown is the narrow space given to syndicate boss Glassman (Andrew S. Gilbert). He’s intriguingly set up as a respectable family man, but the nitty-gritty details of how his business is allowed to flourish are largely unaddressed.
Crisp HD lensing by Peter Falk lends an appropriate verite edge to the material, and the right moments are chosen to desaturate and color-drench the frame. Music score is a mixed bag, with syrupy string and guitar arrangements undercutting several highly emotional scenes needing little or no accompaniment to stand on their own. Rest of tech work is pro.