Scottish Queer International Film Festival: Ashley

Year: 2020
Runtime: 45 minutes
Director: Jamie Crewe
Writer: Jamie Crewe
Actors: Jamie Crewe, Travis Alabanza

By Joan Amenn

“Ashley” is the winner of the 2019/2020 Margaret Tait Award and is surprisingly complex for being a short film. Director Jamie Crewe, who also wrote and stars, gives an at times disorienting immersion into the mind of a deeply agonized and despondent soul. “Ashley” is brilliant in the use of sound to convey the inner turmoil of the title character’s struggle to affirm their identity.

“Ashley” shows a developing artist who can convey the inner workings of the human heart as well as layer the disconcerting over seemingly innocent events. They are someone to watch out for in the future.”

However, there is more than just an inner dialog being portrayed here. There is a whiff of the supernatural suggested in a few disturbing instances as Ashley spends a getaway weekend at an isolated seaside cabin. Their tortured inner life may be manifesting itself in paranoia and delusion or maybe not. Blurred and shaky camera angles, a nasty accident while swimming and finally a night visitation throws into doubt whether Ashley is only imagining that a predator lurks nearby. The lingering heartbreak of a frustrated romance leaves Ashley brooding and second guessing themselves and their sexual identity.

The only solace they seem to find is to watch some chubby bees among the flowers or swimming in the chilly waters near their cottage. That is, until they realize they are bleeding into the surf with some out of focus shots of red droplets suspended among the tidal pools to suggest that something is lingering there that might enjoy the taste. There will be no spoilers here but to be honest, it is open to interpretation. Ashley’s inner monologue, voiced by Travis Alabanza, reveals that they rented the cabin even though they could not afford it and despite advice against it. It seems that destiny or something more foreboding required them to be there but the suspense never really builds up nor is there any clear resolution.

Instead, “Ashley” is more of a spoken poem in blank verse with accompanying drums to suggest heightened emotion. It works but clearly, Jamie Crewe is capable of telling a much deeper and even more emotionally engaging story. With their recognition in receiving the Margaret Tait Award, it is to be hoped that they will be able to embark on their next project with more resources and greater creative freedom. “Ashley” shows a developing artist who can convey the inner workings of the human heart as well as layer the disconcerting over seemingly innocent events. They are someone to watch out for in the future.

SQIFF is running from 5th to 18th October 2020

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