Sabrina Jaglom’s directorial debut opens with a woman standing on the edge of a cliff, her back to us, in a medium close-up shot. The atmosphere is dark, moody and tense, and ominous music plays. And then, she jumps. The title card, JANE, appears in her place, over the dull, cloudy sky.
An alarm blares, and we’re introduced to senior high schooler Olivia (Madelaine Petsch, who also serves as a first-time producer) as she wakes up and begins her morning routine. She goes on a morning run, takes a shower, makes a smoothie, grabs breakfast, and heads off to school at Oceanview High. She sees Izzy (Chlöe Bailey) waiting nearby when she steps outside. Does she need a ride? She doesn’t. Her boyfriend is picking her up. It’s awkward between them. We learn enough to infer that Izzy and Olivia used to be friends, but they drifted further apart when their mutual friend, Jane, killed herself a few months back.
Olivia seems to have her life together — more than most people — but she’s cracking at the seams dealing with grief, which is only complicated when her application to Stanford is deferred. Things get even worse when new student Camille (Nina Bloomgarden) threatens her place of proficiency on the debate team. Olivia soon starts to spiral and experiences a series of panic attacks. To regain some sense of control, she embarks on a social media-fuelled campaign against those who stand in her way of success.
Petsch, though now in her late 20s, is apt at playing the role of a high schooler, having burst into the limelight portraying Cheryl in Riverdale. In Jane, Petsch can break away from the restraints of Cheryl as Olivia is more subdued in temperament. The film highlights the perils of high school stress prevalent among today’s teenagers, evident in where both Olivia and Izzy place their attention. While the pair reconnect, Olivia has her sights set on success, while Izzy is distracted by her friends and dating drama. There is a lot of pressure on Olivia, from herself and those around her, to achieve. She’s high functioning, though quite robotic at times, a result of pushing down her grief and frustration, but as the film goes on, things escalate as Olivia indulges her darkest impulses until she eventually gets in over her head and starts losing control.
Nothing stands out technically. The directing is competent, and the cinematography is quite sombre but effective in delivering the dark and sorrowful mood the film often exudes. Jane is well-paced and remains intriguing throughout as the stakes increase over time. Jaglom’s script, co-written with Rishi Rajani, explores grief, anxiety, and perfectionism with some psychological thrill and authenticity. It also does well in avoiding pointless romantic drama.
“Complicated female characters are rarely featured at the centre of their own stories, free of the whims of adults or their male counterparts,” said Jaglom. “Furthermore, mental health concerns are so rarely taken seriously in young adults, particularly high functioning ones.” While there could have been a more thorough exploration and commentary on mental illness, the film says more than enough, and the ending really packs a punch. Jane will spark conversations around these important topics while, as Jaglom hopes, treating the viewer to a “dark, thrilling ride.”
Jane premieres in select AMC cinemas on August 26 and will be streaming exclusively on the next-generation content studio and distribution platform, Creator+, on September 16th.
by Toni Stanger