27 Jul 2022
Gareth Koorzen, Sasha Grant, Odell Mack
Layering reality and delusion, and imbuing indecipherable metaphors about the creative process into a narrative do not a great film make, as Black Jade is testament to. This beautifully shot, but pretentious feature is all style over substance – masking its lack of interesting characters, themes and purpose with avant-garde imagery.
Raymond (Gareth Koorzen) is a frustrated writer living with his wife Dorothy (Sasha Grant) in Los Angeles. Raymond is tormented by writer’s block and an inability to live up to his dreams of greatness. When his wife’s twin sister Adel (Grant) comes to stay, Raymond’s inner turmoil leads to temptation – and his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as his grip on reality begins to slip.
Black Jade is an art film thriller that is stunningly shot and filled with imaginative cinematography, but lacks anything of a profound nature underneath, and is populated by worn-out character tropes. The story of a writer going slowly crazy thanks to mental block is practically begging for Stanley Kubrick’s lawyers to pick up the phone, and the ‘sister-as-temptress’ development is a predictable fork in the story. Thrillers always lose some of their intrigue when their stories feel reductive, and Black Jade is no exception. The plot structure somehow manages to be confusing and indecipherable, yet utterly predictable at the same time.
Even worse is the lack of any coherent theme to the film. The temptations of darkness when abandoned by direction can be combed from Raymond’s apparent delusions, as well as tenuous ideas around masculinity and how overly proud and egotistical men view women. But in all honesty, these are lost in the overall muddle of a story, which seems more focused on confusing its audience than making it relate to anything.
The characters themselves are unengaging caricatures – the struggling writer and the neglected wife/temptress twin – with the film seemingly relying on Gareth Koorzen’s ability to grimace and strain to communicate Raymond’s torment, as well as Sasha Grant’s chameleon-like dual performances to portray two very contradictory sisters. The actors themselves are fine, but the lack of impression left by the story leaves their efforts in a void. Audiences will appreciate what they accomplish, but with boring characters, comes little in the way of connection.
Where the film does excel is in its imagery – with some outstandingly-framed shots and strikingly dynamic scenes which snatch the audience’s attention in a way that the writing completely fails. Shot largely in monochrome, director Guy Longstreet uses black-and-white as a genuinely impactful effect rather than a crutch. The director and cinematographer isolate their characters with blinding, ethereal white backgrounds, whilst drenching them in overbearing shadows to represent foreboding malice. And the deliberate use of traumatising, blood-red hue raises stress-levels to boiling point – making for a memorable conclusion.
Black Jade is a disappointingly shallow thriller that aspires to a level of intrigue and prestige that it’s story and characters just cannot match. As slick and striking as its visuals may be, there’s no depth to its darkness.