In writing, you’ll often hear the phrase, “keep it simple, stupid”. The more focused a story can be, the less chance there is to get bogged down in elements that aren’t necessary. Jade’s Asylum, world premiering today at Fantasia 2019, is the perfect example of this…
…Marrying psychological horror with a basic slasher premise, writer/director Alexandre Carriere (Homekilling Queen) presents in Jade’s Asylum a film that feels like it was shredded, tossed in a blender, and thrown against the wall, then told in the order of the pieces, and with just as much clarity. Set in gorgeous Costa Rica, the film follows Jade (Morgan Kohan), a woman who has a psychotic episode right around the same time a group of fungus-ridden zombie warriors descend upon the housewarming party she’s attending.
Sounds fun, right? Well, it might be, if Jade’s Asylum weren’t so terribly disorienting. Carriere wants us to feel as if we’re inside Jade’s fractured mind, and with that, the director is beyond successful. Edited as well by Carriere, the film isn’t just non-linear, it’s pure chaos. Not only is Jade’s Asylum told out of order, but nearly every scene contains snippets of other scenes from all around the timeline of the story, many of which repeat over and over again. For example, we may cut from Jade in the bathtub to a killing to Jade to Jade arguing with her boyfriend, Toby (Kjartan Hewitt) back to the killing and back to Jade again. Watching Jade’s Asylum is like watching Jade’s own, fractured memory of the last few days. I don’t know if Carriere’s editing is brilliant or a nauseating mess, but Jade’s Asylum is without a doubt an experience, one that gave me one hell of a headache. If that’s the intention, mission accomplished. You will truly feel like you are in an asylum watching this film.
I can’t blame Jade for losing it, either. A rather withdrawn and meek (at first) character herself, Jade is surrounded by toxic masculinity, including the malevolent “ghost of her father”, Howard (Roc LaFortune), who spends most of the film throwing insults at Jade, telling her how worthless and pathetic and jealous she is. Add in her boyfriend Toby, who blames all of their relationship problems on Jade and her jealousy instead of the fact that he’s a grade A, certified d-bag, and you’ll find yourself wishing Jade would just snap and kill everyone herself. Jade’s Asylum isn’t an easy film to watch by any means. Keeping track of the story is difficult enough, but with no one to follow but a bunch of middle-aged, sex obsessed assholes void of any redeeming qualities, this is one of those horror films where you just can’t wait for everyone to die as soon as possible.
And this is where Jade’s Asylum is at its best. The setting and cinematographer John Olt’s imagery present an exotic world that is full of beauty and danger, perfectly represented by the film’s savage killers. Supposedly, the mansion everyone is partying at was built on sacred ground, and so you know what that means? Zombies. And not just any ole zombie. Tribal zombies covered in fungal growths that drip gooey secretions, with stark-white eyes that make these ghouls ghastly in appearance. This is one of the few times you’ll ever hear me say that an interesting, experimental horror film might’ve been better as a simple slasher, and it’s because the work on the zombie warriors is so utterly grotesque, I would’ve killed for a traditional horror film revolving entirely around them. As it stands now, they’re a unique though secondary facet to the film, and my guess would be they represent the growing disease of masculinity in Jade’s life driven by her co-dependence of others, but that’s just me.
Despite the confusion of the film, Carriere does well in creating a nightmarish vision that assaults your senses. Taking advantage of the location, Jade’s Asylum is filled with the nasty sounds of body parts being sawed off and the haunting wails of the jungle. Likely taking inspiration from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, the camera at times runs and weaves through the jungle grass like an animal, jumpstarting our heartrate. Jade’s Asylum is a gory, brutal film that genuinely unnerved me at times through its savage depiction of violence. True to their nature, the zombie warriors are void of sympathy, and seem to take pleasure in hearing their victims scream while they saw off their feet and then some.
But again, this is where I wish Jade’s Asylum had taken a less befuddling approach. The horror is effective in the short snippets that we get, but with the way the story is told, Carriere has a difficult time building suspense, because it’s nearly impossible when no single scene is actually given time to develop. It’s hard to pull an audience in when a stalk and slash scene is cut into a hundred pieces and spread throughout the film. Because of the style, there’s also a powerful sense of inevitability to it all from the beginning. Seeing the bodies and snippets of events early on doesn’t leave much room for surprise when we’re given more of those moments.
By the end, I drove myself crazy wondering what the point of it all was. Carriere hits us over the head with the idea that Jade is learning to overcome her “disease” and jealousy (which is never a major factor in the story), yet she spends most of the film in the damn bathtub sparring with Howard, leading to an ending that feels forced and without satisfaction. Jade’s Asylum is one of those films that has a lot of great ideas, and Carriere certainly has a unique sense of style, but so much of the film is weighed down by odd choices, like taking up over five minutes of the short runtime with an outtake reel at the end. Visiting Jade’s Asylum will surely drive you mad.
By Matt Konopka