Jade’s Asylum. 2019. Directed & Written by Alexandre Carrière.
Starring Morgan Kohan, Sebastian Pigott, Drew Nelson, Kjartan Hewitt, Jeff Teravainen, Roc LaFortune, Tomas Chovanec, Deanna Jarvis, & Martin Moses.
Not Rated. 82 minutes.
Drama / Fantasy / Horror
Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers
Tonight at Fantasia Festival in Montreal, Alexandre Carrière’s new film Jade’s Asylum had its world premiere. It’s part of Les Fantastiques Week-Ends Du Cinéma Québécois, a program at the festival highlighting the talents of filmmakers hailing from Québec. Other films featured include Steampunk Connection, Dead Dicks, and L’ inquiétante absence.
Carrière’s film is a horror-fantasy hybrid that uses non-linear storytelling with stream-of-consciousness editing to weave a double-edged sword of disturbingly relevant themes. On the surface, it’s the tale of a woman, Jade Williams (Morgan Kohan), whose life has been filled with awful men. She goes to Costa Rica for a bourgeois housewarming party at a seaside jungle mansion, where she experiences a break from reality.
But there are also people from the party disappearing, and mysterious, terrifying figures lurking in the jungle. Are they just at the periphery of Jade’s fraying psyche? Or, is the earth rising up to reclaim its space?
What Jade’s Asylum does effectively is parallel our overall societal treatment of women with our equally abysmal treatment of Mother Earth, similar to themes found in Lorcan Finnegan’s Without Name or Darren Aronofsky’s mother!. Misogyny is dealt with through Jade’s character, while the environmental angle involves strange figures— listed in the credits on IMDB, albeit credited to the wrong actor, as Zuma, obviously derived from Montezuma (a Costa Rican town named for Moctezuma II)— emerging from the soil. These themes intertwine as a plot with a searing message. Patriarchy in the life of one woman becomes an allegory for the larger struggle of nature against the destructive forces of colonialism and all it brings.
It isn’t long after our introduction to Jade that we’re steeped in a world dictated by misogyny. The screenplay starts off with her boyfriend ragging on her because she believes he’s been unfaithful. He gaslights her about what she’s seen with her own two eyes. He’s an emotionally abusive drug abuser. He and all his friends are hypermasculine bourgeois males. They only talk about real estate, making capital, and their endless issues with women. They live in a world where treating your girlfriend like shit is seen as business acumen. The boyfriend and his brother have a conversation about being “male whores,” implying only women can be whores. They also talk about how going to therapy is “not the hand we were dealt,” code for ‘we’re too manly to talk about our feelings,’ and suggest talking to a psychiatrist lets you blame your parents as a scapegoat— this last bit is ironic, given the boyfriend claims this is what Jade does / what we discover about her father over the course of the story.
Jade has visions of her father like he’s right over her shoulder. One unforgettable image is her in the bath, staring at dad sitting in the water right across from her. She cannot escape the mark his misogynistic worldview left on her as a girl. There are suggestions he was a brutal man, so much so his wife took extreme action to rid herself and her daughter of an abusive man. “I hate you,” the father tells her bluntly at one point, to which she replies: “I know.” What’s evident— after we’ve seen the boyfriend + the plot with her father— is Jade’s life has been a parade of terrible men.
The non-linear story and stream-of-consciousness editing help the viewer sink into Jade’s psychological perspective. There are times it’s tough to tell reality apart from her shattered mental health. A major aspect of this is that, for most of the film’s run-time, the viewer is left uncertain whether the Zuma are real or part of the delusional visions she’s experiencing. In the end, the two plots weave into one. Jade grapples with her life being shaped by patriarchy, attempting to quiet the voice of her father / all misogynistic men. This mirrors the Costa Rican land gaining sentience, dispatching those who disrespect it, like the group of urban douchebags attending a housewarming for a bougie mansion that needs a waterfall pool instead of visitors enjoying the many waterfalls of a bountiful natural landscape right outside the door.
“You’re a fucking cunt, Jade—
just like your mother.”
Jade’s experiences with the misogyny of men is juxtaposed against the land’s struggle. At the same time she has to deal with patriarchal forces, so does the land of Costa Rica struggle to reclaim its space from the humans threatening its autonomy / sovereignty. The struggles of woman become that of Mother Earth. The land takes a cue from woman here, refusing to be silenced both literally and figuratively.
An interesting connection making the link between Jade and Costa Rica stronger is the jade tradition. Jade is considered one of the most precious materials in Costa Rica prior to European influence coming to the Americas. This symbolism inherent in Jade’s name helps the whole story play into an allegorical view of the land fighting back against colonial forces via the Zuma.
An epitomising image of the natural world rising up to take revenge on humanity involves the Zuma. Whether named officially or unofficially, the name comes from Montezuma, the town near which the film’s events are set. In turn, the town’s named after the 15th / 16th-century ruler Moctezuma II, of particular significance to themes of colonialism. Moctezuma and his people came into contact with Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortés— this ended the Aztec Empire.
Spanish colonialism ran roughshod over Moctezuma / the Indigenous peoples of Latin America. After colonisation of the Americas came issues of industrialisation from the 19th century onward. Latin America’s suffered due to mass industrialisation, as well as U.S. involvement in their political systems. The town of Montezuma specifically has been taken over by tourists. Indigenous peoples across Costa Rica have been robbed of their land, sometimes by violence force (other tragic examples here and here). Natural beauty is gradually being extinguished in the name of real estate and industry. Many images throughout Carrière’s film speak directly to these intrusions. Certainly no coincidence one of the last images we see is Jade looking at a church in the jungle, its Christian cross looming over top of the trees as a stark reminder of settler influence in Costa Rica.
One scene features an image of shoefiti with a pair of sneakers tossed over a telephone wire. This has many meanings. In Latin America, the shoes are often believed to be that of a dead person, signifying that their ghost lingers. Many in Latin America see it as more pollution— not only the shoes, the power lines, too. The natural landscape is no longer free, obstructed in many places by power lines, illustrating the footprint left by a postmodern world intruding on the land.
The most relevant, and gruesome, image concerning the destruction of Costa Rica’s natural landscape is how the Zuma dispatch their victims. One of the earliest images we see is of a man with chopped off limbs, their stumps stuck into the dirt like roots. Each victim is essentially ‘planted’ in the ground. They’re used as food to replenish the earth. We can see this further as a metaphor for the effects of climate change: character deaths symbolise the human toll these effects will take, and the sewing shut of their mouths is Mother Nature revisiting the silence imposed on her upon all humankind.
“We have always held
that there is a better life
in the better world
beyond the horizon.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt
Carrière gifts his audience a dark fable. Father Gore sees it as a story of how men, and the patriarchy that spins the world on its crooked finger, have pushed women past the point of letting themselves be dominated. Simultaneously, Jade’s battle— the battle of all women— relates to the disrespect shown to Mother Nature, cleverly depicted in a fantastical slasher-like scenario with the Zuma (all played by Martin Moses) using their unique brand of murder to settle a score on behalf of the land.
Jade’s Asylum envisions people with their limbs hacked off, like trees, and their mouths sewn shut like horrifically poetic retribution for Mother Nature’s silencing. Even without much effort it’s tough not to, at the very least, thinly relate the violence of a film set in Costa Rica— committed by creatures who are, for all intents and purposes, the land— to the violence that’s actually occurred in the country in connection with land rights.
Best part of a surreal film is it can be read in a number of ways. The imagination in every scene / sequence is enormous, and Morgan Kohan gives an incredible performance to root all the strangeness in her character’s all-too-human struggle. The eerie, earthly killers are a design marvel that’ll surely turn up in a nightmare or two. No matter how a viewer ultimately reads the film it’s an engaging fantasy that’ll grip your brain in its claws until it’s ready to let go.
And for those who’ll find serious themes to latch onto, Jade’s Asylum offers as much depth in its protagonist / story as it does in Carrière’s auteur vision.