Ashgrove review: As part of GFF22 

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In 2022, a pandemic-themed film can be difficult to execute. COVID still very much dominates our social landscape, and the idea of our channels of escapism becoming replicas of our current reality can be both tiring and frustrating. Ashgrove is perhaps an antidote to this.

Jeremy Lalonde’s latest film, which had its world premiere last week at Glasgow Film Festival redefines preconceptions of the ‘crisis’ genre, offering an alternative perspective on the end of the world; a vision which offers a message of hope and beauty rather than death and destruction.

The making of Ashgrove followed an incredibly ironic timeline. Lalonde and Jonas Chernick (writer, producer, actor) first devised the premise of a small, relationship-focused pieces set during a near end of the world crisis in 2019. Ironically, COVID-19 delayed the film’s production, and shooting began as Canada was reopening after the large-scale shutdown. The irony, but also great potential of creating and releasing a movie about a fictional crisis during a very real one is not lost on the creative team, who discussed the ‘harrowing parallels’ between Ashgrove’s water crisis and current events in my interview with them. 

Ashgrove’s fictional crisis affects the world’s water supply, presenting the human race with the unthinkable choice between drinking toxic particles or extreme thirst. Amanda Brugel stars as Dr Jennifer Ashgrove, one of the world’s top scientists battling to find a cure. As the weight of the world takes its toll, she retreats to the countryside with her husband (Chernick) in a bid to clear her mind. However, it’s not all happiness on the home front and she soon begins to suspect that her husband isn’t being completely honest with her. What follows is a clever examination of an interesting metaphor.Water toxicity is paralleled with a very different type of poison – the destruction of a relationship. Feelings of jealousy, resentment and loneliness threaten to destroy the dynamic between Jennifer and Jason, with Jason having to deal with the crushing feelings of irrelevance as Jennifer’s work constantly takes centre stage. 

This relationship is very much at the forefront of this film, and such a narrative of feeling irrelevant could take place in almost any setting, global crisis aside. We are so used to ‘disaster movies’ depicting pandemics through scenes of mass destruction and chaos, that the human element often gets lost. But, having lived through a ‘crisis’ for almost three years now, telling this story through the medium of a relationship drama feels much more authentic. The stakes are the same, but viewing the pandemic through the lens of a single scientist, and particularly how she (often fails to) balance the situation with her private life, feels both relatable and moving. This is perhaps due to Brugel and Chernick’s powerful performances, carefully crafted to create a multifaceted image of a loving yet strained relationship. Whilst we only follow two days of these characters’ lives, I felt I could see into the past and present of their relationship – their dynamic is immediately familiar. Without ruining the ending, the film requires a second viewing to fully appreciate the love between the two – it first appears as though Jason could fall into a typical ‘secretive husband up to no good’ trope, but the reality is much more complicated. 

One of my favourite types of film is one where the characters and their emotions feel believable and well-developed enough to stand alone. Ashgrove undoubtedly falls into this category. It is a film about a pandemic, but in a way, it doesn’t have to be. It can be a film about feeling lost in a relationship, about the importance of trust, and perhaps most crucially, a film about hope. If, in the aftermath of COVID, pandemic films are going to be the norm, this is the direction they should take.

[Molly Walker – she/her – @m0llywalker]

[Image credit: IMDB]

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