Director: Jeremy LaLonde
Runtime: 92 minutes
Cast: Amanda Brugel, Jonas Chernick, Shawn Doyle, Natalie Brown, Christine Horne, Sugith Varughese
Synopsis: An exhausted scientist working on a desperate project to save humanity is required to take leave on a country farm to recover her mental faculties.
Ashgrove, which had its world premiere at Glasgow Film Festival 2022, reunites director and co-writer Jeremy LaLonde with star, co-writer and producer Jonas Chernick who worked together on James Vs His Future Self (2019).
This dystopian, psychological drama has an intriguing premise involving a pandemic and water, particularly relevant and resonant today.
Dr. Jennifer Ashgrove [Amanda Brugel – The Handmaid’s Tale (TV 2017-2021), Kim’s Convenience (2016), Workin’ Moms (2017), Snowpiercer (TV 2020-21), Sugar Daddy (2020)] one of the world’s top scientists, is battling to find a cure to a crisis that affects the world’s water supply, which has become toxic, meaning only a certain amount of water can be consumed on a daily basis. When the film begins, 60 million are dead globally, with another 100,000 dying every day. Humanity is expected to be extinct in five years. All hope seems lost.
Jennifer is on the point of a breakthrough cure for the water paradox. She has been working all hours for weeks on end in a desperate attempt to resolve the problem, battling exhaustion with worrying blackouts, when she is ordered to take a few days’ rest.
Jennifer retreats to the countryside with her husband, Jason [Jonas Chernick –James Vs. His Future Self (2019), The Prague Orgy (2019), Workin’ Moms (2017), Transplant (2020)] in a bid to clear her mind. But their relationship is strained, and they soon realise that their ability to save their marriage will literally determine the fate of humankind itself.
Ashgrove is a twisty psychological drama from an award-winning team and talented acting ensemble with total cast chemistry that adds a fresh touch to the pandemic genre.
An interesting narrative strand concerns the fact that water has become so toxic that it can only be consumed in very small amounts and drinking constantly monitored to balance between dying from dehydration or being poisoned.
Ashgrove was shot chronologically using an outline which was kept from the actors, who were required to improvise based on their character’s back story and their scenes as they progressed.
“When Jonas Chernick and I started talking about the next film we wanted to make together
(after our 2019 sci-fi comedy feature film James Vs His Future Self), there was one thing we
agreed on: we wanted to make something unlike any film either of us had ever made in the past,“ explains Jeremy LaLonde.
“We wanted everything about it to be different – particularly the process.
“We spend the weekend with a seemingly normal couple whose relationship is in crisis. She’s a leading scientist whom the world is looking to for the answer for how to save humanity, and she’s close to cracking it, but she’s blocked. At the insistence of her bosses, she’s forced to spend a weekend away at the family farm, resetting and relaxing to hopefully help her refocus.
“Over the course of this weekend the couple tries to reconnect, but all the while there’s a growing suspicion that things aren’t quite what they seem. As the weekend progresses, and tensions continue to mount, we slowly and shockingly realize how tightly connected their relationship is to the fate of our world.
“It was an energized process, and inside of it, we found a creative freedom to discover something new about ourselves, as actors, writers, filmmakers, and storytellers.”
Atmospheric cinematography by Robert Scarborough and original tense and evocative music and songs by Ian Lefeuvre underline the tonal shifts from scenes when Jennifer experiences breakthrough or memory loss and during the enforced rural break when she and Jason go kayaking, relaxing afternoons or visit a farmers’ market, all the while rationing their water intake.
Amanda Brugel and Jonas Chernick convince as a couple trying to reconnect, but finding that when the cracks begin to emerge with the secrets and lies in their relationship surfacing, there is more at stake than a marriage.
Images courtesy of: Banana-Moon Sky Films & Peter Harvey Productions & Cryingman Production