It’s not news that teenagers eat their own…that’s been the case since way before the internet. Now social media is aiding and abetting the most reptilian, judgmental, fear-mongering parts of all of our minds, and challenging those who’ve come up post-net in new ways we can’t even imagine. Society has yet to determine just how damaging and dangerous it all might be, but the new indie thriller Jane considers it from the perspective of one anxiety-ridden high school senior. If this film is any indication, we’re all in deep trouble.
The first scene in Jane shows the title character committing suicide by leaping off the side of a mountain. (So, obviously, trigger warning to those with suicidal ideation or those grieving the loss of a friend by suicide). Olivia (Madelaine Petsch) is experiencing the loss through increased anxiety and more panic attacks, which she doesn’t need added to the pressure of getting into Stanford. Her used-to-be-close friend Izzy (Chlöe Bailey), formerly a part of an Olivia, Jane, Izzy trio, is just trying to move forward, mostly with the help of other friends. When new student Camille threatens Olivia’s confidence by overshadowing her in the debate club, Olivia mentions it to Izzy, who suggests she play some mind games with her. Somehow Olivia comes up with using Jane’s social media handle to intimidate Camille, tumbling both Olivia and Izzy into an ever-accelerating and very dangerous use of Jane’s online persona.
There’s a strong psychological component at play in the film, in which Olivia is driven, almost compulsively, to reduce any source of her anxiety, and at any cost. She’s also seeing Jane everywhere, but it’s a bit unclear why, unless it’s to suggest Olivia is on the verge of a psychotic break. In response to why she chose Jane as her first project to produce, Petsch referenced that she struggles with anxiety and panic, and said this was an opportunity to present those disorders from a different perspective. Olive’s perspective may be tethered to panic disorder, but she’s more than willing to go down a morally questionable rabbit hole that leads nowhere good. Though she does elicit compassion, the character is almost entirely unlikeable.
I’d say the film reads as more of a cautionary tale about the need for connection and recalibration after loss. It is also a reminder that the line between reality and fantasy, so often blurred online, can be further muddied through emotional crises.
It bears mentioning that there’s a lot of newness associated with Jane. The film is Sabrina Jaglom’s feature directorial debut, using a script she co-wrote, and it is star Madelaine Petsch’s first producing credit. For Chlöe Bailey, better known as half of Grammy-nominated musical duo Chlöe x Halle, and for playing Jazz Forster on Grown-ish, Jane is a major stretch into the dramatic. Jane is also one of the first features to be released by new studio and streaming service Creator Plus, which leverages the power of social media stars, and offers digital creators and influencers a platform for feature films. Though it’s obvious why Creator Plus partnered with Madelaine Petsch, it’s either ironic or fitting that Petsch has over 25 million Instagram followers and a million subscribers to her YouTube channel. She must have a very clear understanding of how powerful, to the positive or negative, social media can be.
Jane is an interesting watch, and certainly a good showcase for showing both Petsch and Bailey as more multidimensional, skilled performers. It also puts on display the abilities of female artists below the line, like composer Anna Drubich, cinematographer Diana Matos, and editor Shelby Hall. All collaborate well with Jaglom to create the claustrophobic, intense environment that drives Olivia’s bad decisions. We’ve seen much of this before, but this team makes it new enough to inspire a viewer’s commitment to see it through.
3 out of 5 stars