Ashgrove – ★★★★★ Glasgow Film Festival

Ashgrove – ★★★★★ Glasgow Film Festival

Ashgrove is a film that reels you in effortlessly and by the end has you entirely emotionally invested in Amanda Brugel and Jonas Chernick’s troubled couple. Jeremy Lalonde has delivered a subtle yet powerful move – a marvellous film.

A pandemic has affected the world’s water supply; Jennifer (Amanda Brugel) is 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 Jason (Jonas 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. 

Ashgrove is truly surprised by how effective a film is about a woman trying to end a pandemic but with a family drama seamlessly incorporated. This grounded nature allows the film to excel thanks to some stellar world building for such a lowkey film. The standouts, however, are the two lead performances from Brugel and Chernick; their characters feel lived in and so relateable, bringing us back to that excellent grounded tone that is omnipresent throughout.

Although you could possibly guess how Ashgrove is going to end or what the big reveal is, several clues are thrown about. The execution of that reveal is utterly faultless and comes right when it needs to. But even when you think you have the film figured out, it devastatingly taps you on the shoulder to remind you not to be so cocky. The strength in the writing from stars Amanda Brugel, Jonas Chernick and story editor Spencer Giese comes through in spades. Although you have your suspicions of what is going on, the story of Jennifer and Jason’s strained marriage takes centre stage.

Add to this the arrival of Elliot (Shawn Doyle) and Sammy (Natalie Brown), and the fuse that has been achingly begging to be lit for most of the film finally has an excuse to go off, and boy does it. This tension that is amped up throughout Ashgrove only exists thanks to the wonderful foundation made by the worldbuilding put in place early on. The little touches and thoughts to the script help it stand out, such as the amount of water a person can drink a day that a person is informed off thanks to their toxicity breathalyser. Other than the few moments at the beginning of the film setting up the situation, we just see visual examples that are subtle enough not to distract from the overarching story.

With this smart writing, we can put more focus on the relationship of Jennifer and Jason. Why is he acting the way he is, and why is he covering it up so awkwardly? In retrospect, it is all very clever and makes perfect sense, but you do find yourself leaning into the mystery of it all for those moments. The writing also allows us to come up with our own thoughts, and threads are presented throughout to maybe mislead us as to why moments in this getaway are happening. However, what sticks is that these are two broken-down people who are clinging to their marriage for dear life.

However, the writing is not the only aspect of Ashgrove that should take all the plaudits. The performances from all the cast, but especially our two leads, Brugel and Chernick, need to be commended heavily and for entirely different reasons. Brugel plays the under-pressure Jennifer so well, her frustration at not yet finding a cure to save humanity as time ticks away. Coupled with her strained marriage to the seemingly distant Jason, she becomes a woman needing assistance but unable to find anyone there to support her.  

With Chernick, he has a complicated role to play as the writer Jason. He is hiding something from his wife, and doing a bad job at it, causing himself to be almost removed from her in a way, there but distant at the same time. The little moments in his performance are the things that grab you. You see the conflict in his eyes regarding something, how unsure he is with every move, and how the film plays out becomes all the more integral to the story. The intricacies in both their performances have you, and when they have their final moment at the end of the film, it will come close to breaking you to see what they have sacrificed in the search for the cure.

Of course, small things could be better in Ashgrove, but you expect that with every film. But, Ashgrove is a film that is so effective and works on so many levels that you forgive any faults that lie before you. With such strong and confident directing from Lalonde and top-notch acting, we are left with a film that emotionally grabs you and has you right until that draining but fantastic final scene. An astounding film that catches you off guard.


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