Haunting and elegant. There’s a heartrending beauty in the character of Jennifer who is brought to life by Amanda Brugel in Jeremy LaLonde’s latest film, Ashgrove. Set against a backdrop of a global pandemic that threatens extinction, an intimate character drama plays out that could change everything.
There is a thread running through LaLonde’s films, of fractured souls, characters whose pieces fit together and overlay with others in interesting ways, making some whole, but never in the way they, or the viewer thought.
This entry is no different. Beautifully shot, with cinematography by Robert Scarborough, the script boasts a collaboration between LaLonde, Brugel and Jonas Chernick, who co-stars as Brugel’s husband, Jason, and worked previously with LaLonde on James vs. His Future Self.
A global pandemic that has made water intake toxic, has driven Jennifer, Eliot (Shawn Doyle), Frank (Sugith Varughese) and their team over the past few years, working on discovering a cure. Their relationships have paid for it, their personal lives have suffered, and after a collapse, and a diagnosis of dissociative amnesia by Dr. Lakeland (Christine Horne), a break is ordered, a weekend away.
That weekend away takes on menacing undertones as there are whispered phone calls, strange happenings, and strained relations between Jennifer and Jason. There is something more going on here, and whatever it is, Jennifer is at the center of it, and in danger of being completely broken.
The gorgeous location work contrasts with the emotional contexts of the scenes playing out. No more so than in the sequence that involves the arrival of Eliot and his wife, Sammy (Natalie Brown) to spend the day with Jennifer and Jason. Through it all, there is a anxious undercurrent to everything that happens.
Emotions, stress, sacrifice, all of these things have played out in the pandemic we have found ourselves in over the past two years, and we see that reflected on the screen. These characters aren’t reflections of our better or worse nature, they simply are us, our broken selves, our horrible secrets, and our ability, when we choose, to make decisions bigger than ourselves.
LaLonde’s most mature piece of work to date is also his most beautifully crafted, reaping emotional and nuanced performances from his actors, and delivering an intimate tale that juxtaposes with the stress and horrors of the pandemic we’ve been living through.
A superior effort that resonates with the audience that it has captivated.