By Kenny Hedges
Quickly into Jade’s Asylum, you are confronted with the most horrible, dreaded thought. It’s not out of gore or atmosphere, it’s the stark realization that you are going to be spending the next 90 minutes with these people.
As the film begins, Jade (Morgan Kohan) and her boyfriend Toby (Kjarten Hewitt) are in the middle of a huge fight stemming from her supposedly unreasonable jealousy (all he did was kiss another girl, after all) and his general douchey-ness. Toby, his brother and his bros are staying at a mansion in the hills of Costa Rica, doing enough cocaine to kill John Belushi three times over and talking about how they’re man-whores. It’s very much like the frat party you never wanted to go to. After forcing Jade to hitchhike 400 miles to airport, she instead decides to bathe, take drugs and have guilty visions of her dead father (Roc LaFortune, doing his best Elias Koteas). Meanwhile, a tribe of native swamp things stalks and picks them off one by one, sewing their mouths shut (a welcome reprieve).
At least, that’s the straight forward plot. The story flashes back, forward, then back again seemingly at random. It’s chronologically confusing as hell. Replaying the beginning or ending of a scene is typically reserved to let the viewer know when and where in the narrative we are. Here, it’s like the film’s murderous tribe broke into the editing room. It’s difficult to tell when the characters are meant to playfully banter, be concerned for their lives or both. For a film with so few settings, it’s astonishing how narratively inept it is. There’s no sense of space.
When characters die, it’s hard to tell when, but it’s definitely easy to see how (mostly). It’s unforgivingly gruesome, and the effects are fairly good. It’s virtually impossible to garner any sympathy for them. One character’s entire motivation is to display her party-centric lifestyle on instagram is, undeniably, shallow, but it’s no great social comment to just have a character devoted to it. It comes across just as shallow.
“If jealousy were a superpower, there’d be a whole comic book series about you,” Jade’s dead father says. The writer must have thought that was some hot shit, because it’s repeated no less than three times.
Telling a straight-forward slasher flick a out of sequence is a novel idea, and a better script could have really done something interesting with it. Given the way the story unfolds, you’re almost waiting for a seemingly inevitable – and predictable – twist ending. So you have to give the film some grudging respect for allowing it to just be a slasher. Ultimately, Jade has to confront both the creatures and her dead father. This would be a really interesting aspect if it didn’t raise so many other questions.
The creature design is astonishingly good; creepy, shambling men-things with mushroom spores growing off their bodies. But there’s no explanation for their existence. One side character, a local Costa Rican, briefly mentions his annoyance at the Americans building a mansion on the land, and there could have been room for some kind of nature-striking-back subplot. Instead, we get to rewatch the same scenes with barely any new context.
It’s really a shame more couldn’t have been done with Jade’s Asylum, a handsomely shot film whose most interesting ideas are muddled by shoddy, incompetent storytelling and one-note characters.
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