Written by Tresca Mallon
Ashgrove deals with crisis on both a macro and micro level. Jennifer (Amanda Brugel) is a world-leading scientist who is battling to find a cure for a deadly water pandemic. At the same time her marriage with husband Jason (Jonas Chernick) is falling apart. After falling into ill health Jennifer is persuaded to retreat to the country for a week of rest with her husband. However, everything is not as it seems.
Ashgrove is paranoia personified, and what makes it worse is that for most of the film we have no idea why! Every character except for Jennifer is acting strange and her mounting paranoia is infectious. This feeling was fostered by director Jeremy LaLonde who actively messed with the actors, especially Brugel, on set by giving them misdirections and the wrong answers (You can read all about it in our chat with LaLonde and the team). This is especially evident when the couple’s friend’s Sammy (Natalie Brown) and Elliot (Shawn Doyle) come to visit and they play a game in which the couples guess questions about their spouses. LaLonde gave Brugel the wrong answers in real life so even the actor was completely put-off and embarrassed in this scene. This scene is excruciating and there is a palpable tension between all four characters which is skin-crawling.
Brugel gives an emotive performance. As her uncomfortability mounts she draws the audience in and we are right there with her. She embodies a woman used to control who feels as though she is slowly losing it. Brugel and Chernick bounce off each other. There is an ease between them which makes their long, if dysfunctional, marriage believable. Chernick is known for comedy roles and despite taking on a more serious persona, there’s a kookiness to him which naturally jumps out and actually gives extra layers to his character. He offers a comic relief and pleasant contrast to Brugel.
Ashgrove is a film about a pandemic, made during a real pandemic, on a small budget. It is quietly terrifying and a novel concept surprisingly developed five months before COVID-19 sprang into our lives. While there are flaws in elements of the score and some shaky editing, it fizzes with tension from start to finish, and manages despite everything to leave the audience with a feeling of hope and a perfectly cheesy final moment.