The Unsolved Case: a review of Jakob Bilinski’s award-winning new film Compression

The first time I felt I had made a film as I saw it in my head was a short called “The Encyclopedia Satanica.” Shot ten years ago for an anthology film titled “Volumes of Blood” in Owensboro, Kentucky. My director of photography was a talented young filmmaker by the name of David Bonnell. David and I first worked together on this short and we’d go on to make 2 more films together.

I first met David at Scarefest in Lexington, Kentucky months before filming VOB as he was accompanied by his friend and often collaborator, Indiana filmmaker Jakob Bilinski. I had been a guest of Bilinski’s podcast some time earlier but this was our first meeting in person. Jakob was also set to direct a segment in Volumes with David also shooting his segment, “13 After Midnight” about a college student staying overnight at a closed library to cram for a test when a monster attacks her.

I had seen Jake’s massive tribute to Giallo, “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” which he made with David as well. I could tell right away that Bilinski was different from the other area indie horror filmmakers. His hero was Ingmar Bergman and he took what he did very seriously and with great passion. Actor Kevin Roach, who we have both collaborated with several times told me Jake is the kind of director he’d get into literal fights with on set but in a good way, because Bilinski was always pushing for the best work possible. I’m not the type to want to fight but when things really matter that much to you, as filmmaking ALWAYS should, then it’s worth it. It simply means he cares.

In all honesty, I was intimidated contributing a segment in the same film as Bilinski as I was so new to the art form. I guess in a way, I was determined to at all costs match Jake.  Anthologies always have good ones and bad ones. I didn’t want to make the bad one. After its completion I really hoped to one day work with Jake on the same film and not just contributing separate segments.

That almost happened on the sequel to VOB. I was all set to direct a segment called “Murder Death Killer” that I had written for the film when the project needed a replacement script for the Christmas Eve segment that Jake was set to helm. I wrote a script called “Fear, For Sinners Here.”  Jake loved it but was conflicted because he really wanted to make something more him; faster, frantic and action-packed. My story was more me; slow-burn, quiet and all about atmosphere. So I swapped him segments.

I was so excited to see Jake make MDK instead as it really did fit him much better than me. Plus he’d direct me and Kevin in a small part of it. But Jake’s scheduling became conflicted and MDK ended up needing a replacement director and since I was done with FEAR by then , I took over for Bilinski and directed two segments for the movie. 

Jake and I never got to work together and we really hadn’t kept much in touch since 2016.

Now you may be asking why in the hell am I writing about all of this stuff when this piece is supposed to be about Jake’s newest film “Compression?”  Well, quite frankly, it’s to let you know that we are friends and being such, my views on this film might come with a little bit of bias. I can tell you that I stand by everything I ever say and I don’t bullshit you when I tell you that something is good and worth your time. Trust me, there is nothing scarier for me than to have a friend ask me to watch their film and not like it. Oh my god, what can I say when they ask what I thought? “The music was good.” Luckily that’s not the case here. If his film wasn’t good I wouldn’t be writing this and I’d be sweating it out, awaiting that dreaded message, “What did you think?”

But if my knowing Jakob and one of its supporting cast (Kevin Roach) makes you question my honest opinion then let me tell you about this past weekend where COMPRESSION made its world premiere at HorrorHound Weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio.  While it’s true that I was once a staff artist/writer at HorrorHound Magazine, I haven’t been so in about a decade and have absolutely nothing to do with their film festival.  So let me just tell you that not only did Compression premiere at the show but it took home 7 of its 11 nominations.

The 7 awards it won?

Best supporting performance – Kevin Roach

Best lead performance – Emily Jean Durchholz

Best writing—Jakob Bilinski and Peter Matsoukas

Best editing—Jakob Bilinski

Best directing—Jakob Bilinski

Best feature

and Judges choice (best in show)

These wins alone should make you take interest in this film.

If not, let me just start out by saying that Compression is easily the best film Bilinski has ever made. With Compression comes maturity in every area be it his subject, execution and talents.

First thing that leaps out at you is how gorgeous the film is. Shot and colored by Jake himself. As in his past work, Bilinski relishes in color in a very Argento-fashion along with lens flares and multiple angled shots in his coverage giving him that music video editing style which won him the award. Jake is a visionary director. Each frame a painting that is mesmerizing to take in. And who are we taking in most of the time? Best Actress winner and one of the film’s producers, Emily Jean Durchholtz (Morbid Colors) who stars in the film as Hazel Hendrix. My best compliment to any indie actor is that while I am watching I am also thinking, I need to call her in for an audition on my next film. And Emily is definitely getting a call.

We meet Hazel Hendrix (Emily) in a flashback—bloodied, distraught and escaping an unknown traumatic event. Jump to the present, Hazel is in seclusion in her suburban home working as the host of a popular true crime podcast. Whatever she lived through has weighed heavily on the young woman as Hazel cannot bear to take a single solitary step on her front porch to retrieve a delivered package. As the film moves without a rush, we start to get several small details of her life, past and present from a series of calls to her agent, shrink and her estranged sister.

It seems she is stuck in her own cell with no plans for change, until  Hazel chooses to take a leap and escape her prison by throwing an entire bag of hallucinogenic mushrooms onto her delivery pizza.  The young survivor starts to be haunted by a dark figure and faces of her past, twisting reality and sending her on a harrowing trip that will either lead her  to self-destruction or freedom.

Kevin Roach won a best supporting actor award for his performance as her ex-lover Elijah while Morbid Colors star Kara Gray joins the cast as an admiring fan wanting to get closer to the popular podcaster. 

Compression is a slow-paced character study of a victim battling the memories of loss and violence. The “horror” and “blood” is light in this film but if you are interested in intelligent, raw emotionally driven human stories that skate the line of drama and horror then Compression is a movie you need to see.

The film also features a very effective and complimentary score from composer  CJ Johnson.

In my opinion, Jakob Bilinski is one of the 3 best indie horror filmmakers that I have met in my neck of the woods over the years and Compression is his finest work yet. HorrorHound felt that and rewarded him 7 of their biggest awards this year.  I felt it, and I’m even more anxious to finally work with the man if I ever get the chance. As well as Emily if the right role ever arises.  I have confidence many of you will feel what we felt when Compression comes across your doorstep. And when it does, don’t  be afraid. It’s worth the risk of stepping out and bringing it in.