Guy Longstreet makes his cinematic debut as the writer-director-producer of Black Jade. The ambitious thriller, shot in sumptuous black and white, wears its inspirations on its sleeves (most notably The Shining and In The Mouth Of Madness) and blurs the line between reality and fiction. Longstreet proves so effective at this that I was sure the first five minutes were going to be revealed to be a part of the story-within-a-story.
Raymond (Gareth Koorzen) is a struggling author with several pent-up issues. His wife, Dorothy (Sasha Grant), keeps the household above water, financially speaking. While the couple has their disagreements and fights, they are clearly drawn to each other. In fact, to better their life together, the couple just moved to Los Angeles.
However, things sour between them when Dorothy’s sister Adel (Grant in a dual role) shows up unannounced. Raymond and Adel flirt, angering Dorothy. She also provides inspiration for the author to write, which he now does vigorously. But, as Raymond gets deeper into the story he’s writing, his fictional world and reality smash together. Did that dalliance with Adel actually happen? Are Raymond and Dorothy actually fighting? Or is all of it just inside Raymond’s head, thrashing its way from his subconscious to his conscious mind?
Now, let’s circle back to the opening scene of Black Jade. The married couple is talking to Charles (Odell Mack) about funeral experiences. Dorothy talks to the older gentleman in a highly mannered way, while Raymond shoots the other two an awkward glance from time to time. At first, this comes off as stilted acting, threatening to derail the proceedings from the start. But, it is not. Longstreet purposefully uses the beginning to throw everyone watching off their game. Without overexplaining the themes or the character dynamics at play, the first-time filmmaker turns reality into unreality, causing audiences to question literally everything anyone says or anything they do.
“…as Raymond gets deeper into the story he’s writing, his fictional world and reality smash together.”
This is especially true of the final 20 or 30 minutes. As the frenzied editing discombobulates viewers, the emotional turmoil of Raymond is on full display. The feelings being dealt with include insecurity, fear, paranoia, and perceived emasculation. Whether Raymond is truly experiencing these things or simply believes he is will be a source of great debate among film fanatics for a long time to come.
Of course, none of this would work if not for the cast of Black Jade. Grant is fierce, angry, enticing, and grounded as Dorothy and Adel. She makes her dual roles very distinct, different people while still allowing them to both feel authentic. Mack’s role is not substantial, but he brings the right amount of gravitas to Charles.
But, it is Koorzen who’s required to do much of the heavy lifting. The Cape Town native is a natural and sells every surreal turn. Again going to the film’s first scene, he’s stand-offish, stilted, a little unnatural. But, later, over a dinner conversation with Dorothy and Adel, he’s more chatty, engaged, and lively. By playing Raymond as both energetic and closed off at the same time, the actor helps audiences question what is and isn’t real. It’s an impressive performance worthy of several accolades.
Black Jade is kinetic, enthralling, and slightly confusing, but in a good way. Longstreet has something very specific he wants to say and does so in a thought-provoking way with plenty of style. Everyone in the cast delivers impressive performances and sells the surrealistic aspects as well as the emotional weight of the plot. If one is looking for a modern film noir, then rest assured, the search is over.
To learn more about Black Jade, check out its official site.
"…kinetic, enthralling, and slightly confusing..."