Film Review – Jane (2022)

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Sabrina Jaglom’s Jane is a bold take on the high school movie. Rather than a showcasing of high school politics at its pettiest, it is instead an eerie example of how trauma mixed with group politics can morph us into the worst versions of ourselves. It is an ambitious feature debut.

Jane references a girl (Chloe Yu) who has recently committed suicide. Left behind to grieve is Olivia Brooks (Madelaine Petsch, who also produces the film). She is a staunch perfectionist – to the point where everything from her daily morning runs to her debate team routines are timed to the second. She aims to get into her dream college of Stanford, while bottling up her sorrow over Jane’s death.

When she gets a deferment, rather than an acceptance, from Stanford, Olivia begins to psychologically spiral. To regain a sense of control, she and her friend Izzy (Chloe Bailey) decide to play pranks on those who Olivia sees as standing in her way to greatness. However, their methods include using Jane’s now inactive social media account to torment Olivia’s rivals. Tie this into the already complicated feelings of loss that the girls have regarding Jane, and bad habits gradually become worse until the inevitable boiling point.

Jane utilises a wide aspect ratio 4:3, seemingly alluding to the far reaching consequences of the girls’ actions. The film evokes a level of paranoia that Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan or Matt Palmer’s Calibre excel in, even though its dialogue and setting would suggest something closer to Mean Girls. There is a darkness to the film’s cinematography and setting that feels inescapable for the characters. The further they sink into the moral bankruptcy of their campaign, the more this detail seems to consume the screen.

At its core, Jane is about the messiness of the human spirit. People are tested and broken by tragedy every day, and Jane understands how the death of a young person can alter someone permanently. Olivia does not start off as an angel – she is stubborn, judgemental, even elitist. Yet she’s still human. Jane’s death has tainted her perfectionist drive with melancholy. Her decision to use Jane’s inactive account in her monstrous experiment against her enemies is all sorts of messed up. But this is also her morbid way of keeping her friend alive – as if attempting to undo the awful tragedies that make her perfect life imperfect. Jaglom’s script and direction takes seemingly archetypal characters and really explores the dimensions that come from social situations thrust upon them. Contemporary aspects, be it social media or greater awareness of mental health and power imbalances only add further fuel to this increasingly blazing fire.

Madelaine Petsch is no stranger to playing privileged high schoolers, as seen in her flamboyant portrayal of Cheryl Blossom in Riverdale. Her character here is quite disgusting in many ways, yet Petsch captures the reliability within Olivia’s actions. We don’t agree with her decisions, but we find ourselves understanding her reasons – even empathising with the trauma and anxiety that dictates her personality and her choices. Petsch revels in the character’s vulnerabilities and worst impulses alike, successfully conveying the complications of an anti-heroine such as Olivia. Meanwhile, Chloe Bailey’s Izzy serves as a more level headed presence to ground the audience within the growing tension of the story.

Jaglom’s directorial choices demonstrate that she would have a real knack for horror movies. As Olivia’s actions become more unforgivable, she starts to hallucinate seeing Jane everywhere. Jane’s presence is a physical manifestation of Olivia’s guilty conscience. This is a simple but effective choice that heightens the stress of what we’re watching, while offering a deeper look into Olivia’s mental health. It does not excuse her actions, but it is a compelling way of visually showcasing the grey areas of which this film places its characters and themes.

There seems to be a rise in media exploring the sociopolitical dimensions of high school drama, with Tima Shomali’s AlRawabi School For Girls still being the gold standard. Jane is another entry into this emerging genre, and it is a strong contributor. It is suspensefully crafted, cleverly written and really sticks to its guns when it comes to portraying people doing horrible things in the name of self-interest, or as a response to trauma. This is a double edged sword, as there will undeniably be some who see this as just bad people doing bad things and will be turned off because of that. It’s an understandable response, but Jaglom and her team’s approach is nuanced enough that those willing to stick it out will find some captivating themes and filmmaking within. Jane is an uncomfortable, and often horrifying watch, but this reviewer really dug it.


Thriller | USA, 2022 | 15 | Digital | 13th February 2023 (UK) | 101 Films | Dir.Sabrina Jagolm | Madelaine Petsch, Chlöe Bailey, Melissa Leo, Chloe Yu, Nina Bloomgarden