Eye For Film >> Movies >> Ashley (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
A weekend away always feels like a work in progress. Too fleeting a thing to really bring relief, it occupies the middle ground between escape and toil, sandwiched between journeys. Jamie Crewe's film, created for the 2019/2020 Margaret Tait Award which focuses on the use of film as an artistic medium, is full of uncertain journeys and transitory states. It even takes place on the seashore, a region traditionally accorded spiritual significance because of its liminality.
Crewe plays the titular Ashley - or at least their body. Their voice is provided by Travis Alabanza, adding to that sense of disconnection. They've booked the weekend as an escape from the pressures of day to day life, alone in a little cottage at the edge of the woods (another boundary). There, they try to figure out issues around recent surgery and identity - around gender, but also a broader sense of self. They also explore the area, stubbornly trying to make the most of the trip, an attitude many viewers will be familiar with from their own less successful attempted holidays. Ashley doesn't have to deal with stressed-out relatives but does have a lot of internal strife. They also, increasingly, have the sense that they're being hunted.
Though it was conceived well before the Covid-19 pandemic, this film will feel timely to many trans people who have struggled with the twin challenges of isolation and returning to the world, having to rebuild their defences against a sometimes hostile world. Ashley's fear of being watched first emerges when they need to take a pee during a hike - something most viewers will relate to but which has particular resonance on account of many trans people's fears around accessing toilets safely during the current moral panic. Later, however, Crewe adopts the familiar language of the horror genre (hinted at from the outset by scarlet title cards) and we find Ashley shuddering inside the cottage as something sinister makes itself heard outside.
The idea of going into the wilds - especially the woods - and experiencing natural or supernatural trials as part of a spiritual journey is an ancient one. Ashley seems to be experiencing a rite of passage but with no clear sense of who they might wish to become as a result, or how to accept that person. The final scene delivers strong emotion but is ambiguous as to the content of that. Crewe's success lies in managing all this uncertainty whilst maintaining a sense of directional narrative and keeping the film interesting to watch - even when visual distortion makes it difficult to follow exactly what's happening. The viewer, like the protagonist, must experience uncertainty and lose the path in order to discover what might lie ahead.Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2020