Jax in Love is an eye-catching suspense short film that has been shaking up the festival circuit this past year. It follows Jax, a lonely and intense woman, as she trawls desert backroads and truck stops for companionship. Writer, star, and co-producer Rakefet Abergel recently won a well-deserved Best Actress award at Nightmares Film Festival.

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I had a hard time coming up with a score out of ten for this film … and decided against it. The reason being that the film is so disjointed and outré — to the point of channeling screwball John Waters camp — that it can’t be prescriptively assessed. It jumps in tone from light to melodramatic to frightening; I initially assumed it lacked cohesion, but, as the story unfolded, realized that the mood shifts are intended to subvert viewer’s expectations — in an entirely good way.

Some of the performances don’t quite land, though Abergal as Jax is startling: a terrifying yet vulnerable presence who exudes sensuality, whether she’s menacing a guileless young woman or captivating a stranger who looks like he strolled out of an Abercrombie & Fitch campaign. It’s rare for a short film to feature a leading female role with such depth and complexity.

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The cinematography, a jumble of serene xeric vistas juxtaposed with handheld shots, underscores the off-kilter feel of the film. The score and sound design also vary: dramatic and near-maudlin in some places while scary in others. In the end, all of the components piece together into a smart and unusual film that you need to watch. Give it a look-see!