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Jade's Asylum
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by Jay Seaver

"Stretches as far as it can but not quite far enough."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I can't say I much enjoyed "Jade's Asylum", but the discussion with the filmmakers included one of the more tellingly confessional moments I've seen at a festival screening: It went from mostly indoors to mostly outdoors when they got on site and saw that their monster suit didn't look good in the mansion they'd rented. It doesn't make the final product better, but it gives one an idea of how many different pieces have to come together for a movie to work and an appreciation for how often you have to try and fix things on the fly.

The mansion is somewhere in Costa Rica, to which Jade Williams (Morgan Kohan) has come with boyfriend Toby Hunter (Kjartan Hewitt), one of several guests Toby's brother Wesley (Jeff Teravaninen) has invited for a housewarming party. Most are obnoxious bro types, although Mike (Sebastian Pigott) seems pretty decent despite coming with Instagram-diva girlfriend Tanya (Deanna Jarvis). Jade's in a fragile state and ready to walk back to the city to try and get home despite not having the money to fly back to Canada and Toby unwilling to help despite not really wanting her there, and that state of mind is not going to improve with a bunch of dudes covered in mushroom coming out of the woods to attack the gringos.

There's potential to that, if you want to dig into these characters' relationships and maybe make what's got Jade reeling feel much more central, but filmmaker Alexandre Carrière never seems to find anything there, and stretches what he has thin. This movie is 83 minutes long, but includes a whole ton of outtakes and such over the end credits, along with other big chunks of runtime wasted on pointless nonlinear circling back around to various flashbacks and flash-forwards throughout the film. Take out the subplots that go nowhere and the repetition and there's maybe a half-hour of movie here, and that half-hour doesn't make a lot of sense. One suspects that it is missing a lot of pieces that could have clarified things, but Carrière instead pursues the sort of ambiguity that does a movie little good unless there's something more compelling behind "real or not?" Maybe retooling while they shot put the filmmakers in a bad position, but the result isn't good.

It does have a reasonably good-looking mushroom monster, though, which does in fact work quite well in the woods even if the filmmakers didn't like it indoors. In a lot of ways, this film isn't much when you line it up with the more professional efforts - it's somewhere in that fuzzy area between "independent" and "underground" as a production - but the people involved squeeze a fair amount out of what they have, from the nice house to the jungle locations to the good makeup and creature effects. Sometimes they squeeze a little too hard - there are a couple of long shots where someone was clearly excited about the awesome bug they saw - but it's the rare minute that looks shoddy on its own.

They've also got a winning heroine; Morgan Kohan is plenty appealing whether reacting to Jade's boyfriend with frustrated anger or looking like the action is really taxing her, and that goes further than you might think. Once one gets past her, though, it's something of a blur of generic white dudes getting knocked off without the effects budget to really do the gore well, the sort where each kill is more likely to elicit a reaction of "one more down" than "not him!". The cast isn't bad, per se, but the story is so hacked-up and messily shot that they almost never get put in good position.

It's a frustrating little movie, never really developing into a great slasher with stabs at being a more sophisticated psychological thriller just leaving it in no man's land. It's impressive that the filmmakers managed as well as they did, but it's still not quite good enough to break through.

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originally posted: 01/12/20 03:52:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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