Ashgrove – Review

The opening scene of Ashgrove is a masterclass in storytelling. With any sort of entertainment medium, it is vital that the audience is engaged as soon as possible If it doesn’t then it can be a real uphill task to keep any sort of attention. Ashgrove uses a very clever sequence to draw you in. It starts with a blank screen and a radio interview with the main character of Jennifer. Using this device, a fade into Jennifer in an idyllic setting, and a soft soundtrack, we are presented in a very straightforward way, the state of the world, the part Jennifer plays in it and the state of her marriage. All of this in less than two minutes. It puts a stake in the ground in terms of the film and immediately draws you in.

The film is set during a pandemic that has affected the worlds’ supply of freshwater. There is a level of toxicity in the water that means that people have to limit and constantly monitor their fluid intake. Jennifer Ashgrove is a leading scientist in the quest for a cure for the disease. It all becomes a bit much for her and she is ordered to take some time away with her husband in order to recharge and de-stress. The weekend doesn’t quite go to plan as tensions between her and her husband resurface and Jennifer starts to believe that he is keeping something for her.

This is a film that keeps you guessing for most of its economical run time. Everyone will go into it with certain preconceptions given the initial premise. The pandemic element is a backdrop to the drama and not the full focus of the story. This is a very good move in that we have already had a number of pandemic dramas of varying quality and the marketplace is getting a little saturated. Instead, the film focuses on the relationships that form the bulk of Jennifer’s life.

Amanda Brugel is quite simply superb as Jennifer. She is the main focus of the story and is on screen for just about every scene. The role is demanding in a number of ways. It has to be compelling in order to keep the story going and the audience interested. Amanda appears to do this with ease. Her performance alters as the role demands. She is called on to be compassionate, angry, perplexed and happy at different points in the drama and the transitions are seamless.

Of course, this would all be for nothing if the supporting cast were not on the same level. Jonas Chernick is an ideal foil in the role of Jennifer’s husband. His role is to be the understanding partner who lives in the shadow of his wife. He is there to be her rock and not a source of worry and anxiety.  This in itself has become a source of long-standing conflict.  In order to portray this, Jonas has a hangdog look to him. His slightly unkempt look says more than several pages of dialogue.

The scenes they share together provide a view into their relationship. There is a feel to their interactions that comes across as being well researched and having a real sense of authenticity. A scene, in particular, is a good example of this. Despite already having promised to be sensitive to each other’s needs, the couple soon descends into a row. What makes this authentic is the way that the fight starts. It is delivered in almost hushed tones as if they were being quiet so as not to disturb someone in the next room (which there isn’t). It is as if keeping their voices low it won’t be as hurtful. As the argument progresses both the tempo and the noise level increase until they are almost shouting. It is a compelling scene and all the more intense due to this seemingly simple mechanism.

Ashgrove is a film that is well worth a watch. You won’t be disappointed.

John McArthur
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