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Review: Self Reliance (2024)

Self Reliance (2024)

Directed by: Jake Johnson

Premise: An isolated and listless man (Jake Johnson) is offered a chance to participate in a million dollar contest in which he will be hunted for thirty days by people trying to kill him. However, the hunters can only kill him if he is alone and so the contestant devises ways to be with others at all times.

What Works: Self Reliance has a talented supporting cast including Biff Wiff, Emily Hampshire, Daryl J. Johnson, and Mary Holland. Many of these actors punch up their scenes and their performances are in tune with the film’s wacky conceit. The strongest portion of Self Reliance occurs in the middle of the story. Jake Johnson’s character meets a woman, played by Anna Kendrick, who claims to be part of the game and they spend several days together waiting out the hunters. Their relationship begins practical and platonic but it is obvious that they have a mutual attraction and Johnson and Kendrick have a natural and likable romantic rapport. The early scenes of Self Reliance tap into something quite real about contemporary life: the loneliness and isolation that are so common in social life after the pandemic especially among young men. The life-or-death stakes of the contest realize the fact that life could end at any moment and the importance of embracing opportunities for experience and human connection.

What Doesn’t: Unfortunately, the filmmakers of Self Reliance never vividly create those life and death stakes and largely bungle the premise. We’re left to wonder if the contest is even real. If it isn’t then Johnson’s character is delusional or the victim of a prank and there are no stakes to the story. If the contest is real, it’s rarely convincing that anyone is in actual danger and Self Reliance lacks a sense of escalation or credibility. The contest is supposedly content for a television show but if the hunters are really going to murder the contestants then the world of this story ought to be much darker and depraved or the contest must be part of an underground snuff scene. None of this is explained. Crew members occasionally pop up and insert themselves into the action but the contest and the television program always remain abstract and tangential. Other story elements are inconsistent. The relationship between Johnson and Kendrick’s characters is engaging but it is arbitrarily dropped from the story and never recovered. The incomplete story world and the lack of stakes leave the story of Johnson’s character and the point of the film unsatisfying. He hasn’t really changed and the story hasn’t validated anything meaningful.

Disc extras: Available on Hulu.

Bottom Line: Self Relance wastes a good cast and a compelling premise. The supporting cast is funny but the concept is poorly thought out and the story doesn’t deliver on its ideas.

Episode: #993 (April 21, 2024)