A global pandemic, a viral infection which has entered the food chain via the water we drink, accumulating in the system slowly but the toxicity inevitably fatal; with sixty million already dead it is estimated the human race has only five years left. Asked whether it is true that her lab is one of the closest to a breakthrough to a cure, Doctor Jennifer Ashgrove politely sidesteps the question, but behind her public face of cautious optimism the pressure is real and inescapable.

Suffering from stress induced blackouts, it is recommended that Jennifer take some time off to relax but with 100,000 dying every day she feels she cannot afford the time. The alternative the risk of a full breakdown, the absence is made mandatory: a weekend at the farmhouse with her novelist husband Jason, their friends Elliot and his pregnant wife Sammy joining them for dinner – so why does Jennifer feel she is being manipulated, deceived, even lied to by the people she trusts the most?

Its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, Ashgrove is a return of writer/director Jeremy LaLonde and writer/actor Jonas Chernick after the screening of the science fiction comedy James vs. His Future Self two years previously, their new offering a much darker drama of persecution, paranoia and resilience co-written with Snowpiercer’s Amanda Brugel who stars as Jennifer Ashgrove, a woman upon whom the fate of the world could quite literally depend.

Water rationing a part of their lives, limiting exposure to the endemic virus, Jennifer is capable of self-control, so why is Jason (Chernick) so adamant in his demands over trivial matters, turkey sandwich for lunch rather than salad, apple crumble pie to follow? Her dedication to her work needing no justification, is it her guilt at their separation that makes her perceive every comment Jason makes as a judgement or her own fear of failure expressing itself, or is there some unspoken agenda in her removal from the laboratory?

The presumed relief at the arrival of Elliot and Sammy (The Expanse’s Shawn Doyle and The Strain’s Natalie Brown) only exacerbating the situation, while conceived before the COVID-19 pandemic Ashgrove is a chamber piece of people trying to act normal when the situation is anything but, reaching for support from a friend who is already drowning in their own worries, an unintended but timely portrait of our times, claustrophobic even in the open grounds of the Ashgrove homestead.

Normally empathetic friends carrying the accumulated burden of a year of anxiety and hopelessness, the frustration behind best intentions bleeds through even the most carefully constructed masks yet Ashgrove successfully navigates the valley of darkness to find the hope beyond, Brugel unbowed by the impossible burden she carries, a woman who has already given so much to the cause that one more sacrifice is little to ask.

Glasgow Film Festival continues until Sunday 13th March



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