9 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

NOTE: Before I begin this review, I’m obligated to state that I saw this film at a private premiere-screening at Rave Motion Pictures in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and that the film will soon begin its film-festival run. Whatever editing alterations there may be since its screening won’t be significant to this review.

There is a campaign known as “Not for Sale- Arkansas.” According to their Facebook page information, their mission is “to spread awareness in Northwest Arkansas regarding the human trafficking epidemic within the US and the world.” I don’t guess I was fully aware of the horror that is human trafficking, but I now know that statistics show over 30 million people are victims of kidnapping, slavery, and prostitution, among other things. And this campaign is here to help raise awareness of it, and also to bring back the lives of individuals who have practically nearly had theirs destroyed by it.

The made-in-Arkansas indie feature “Jade,” written and directed by Little Rock native Jess V. Carson, is a film that centers on the atrocity that is human trafficking that I don’t think I realized was happening right around us. It can happen anywhere. (Hell, maybe we’ve seen it on the streets of our hometown and just never realized what was really going on.) The film tells a fictional tale about such a young woman, named Jade, who was a victim of captivity and sets out to rebuild her life.

From Jade’s voiceover narration, we learn that her mother sold Jade to a pimp at age 12, and Jade has been serving him ever since. Through numerous intensive flashback sequences, we see the sheer unpleasantness of what she went through, along with other women (one of which is only about 12-13 years old), and the fear and distress that she can no longer deal with. This drives her to escape, as she hitches a ride to the next town (presumably North Little Rock, AR).

Free from her captor (seen in flashbacks as a truly sick individual known as “Prince,” played by Scott McEntire), Jade (Krystal Kaminar) spends most of her time at the local library, and stays at a motel (spending money she stole from Prince). Soon enough, two people come into her life. One of them is the kind librarian, Marcie (Verda Davenport-Booher), who notices that this young woman is in need of some sort of benefit. So she hires her to work in the library, and also invites her to stay in her home. (By the way, one of my favorite scenes in the film is how Marcie is able to convince Jade to accept her invitation—she practically pushes her, saying, “Ask me anything you want so you know you can trust me.” Great line.)

The other person who arrives into Jade’s life is Garrett (Joe Ochterbeck), an earnestly-goofy young man who also works in the library and clearly does not know the meaning of the word “quit.” He spots Jade and constantly tries to make small talk with her, while Jade, who doesn’t trust men anymore, is cold towards him and always cuts right through the bull. To be fair, though, Garrett is a nice guy who persists for friendship, not for sex.

The flashback sequences, which are intersected between scenes set in the present-day, don’t back down from the horror that Jade underwent. These scenes that show the living environment of Jade and her fellow victims of smuggling are disturbing and even painful (though no on-screen sex is present, and the most graphic violence mostly occurs off-screen, but clever editing still makes it effective). In particular is whenever the loathsome Prince arrives on-screen to set his “slaves” straight in his eyes—it feels like the real deal. Credit for that not only goes to the believable performances by the actors (which I’ll get to soon), but also to the screenplay by Jess V. Carson. The dialogue rings true, and the situations seem realistic—you can tell that Carson did her research on the subject, and she even claimed at the panel discussion of the aforementioned private premiere-screening, at which I saw the film, that she interviewed a former victim of human trafficking, and gained insight for the script. It shows.

The flashbacks present a great contrast to the present-day story, but that’s what’s needed in order to further represent the developments and changes that Jade will undergo with her new life in comparison to her past. This is an important element that helps make “Jade” an effective tale of redemption, as Jade continues to reconstruct her life after a horrid past. The first few times she spends with Marcie and Garrett, she’s uncertain and very standoffish. But as she spends even more time with these two nice people, she learns to trust for the first time after years of despair and feeling worthless/hopeless. She now feels like she may have something worth living for, and feels comfortable for once.

Among the film’s strengths are the performances from the actors. Lead actress Krystal Kaminar portrays Jade convincingly, and really sells the dramatic moments (particularly in most of the flashback scenes). It’s an effective representation of the kind of person that falls victim to human trafficking and needs help in order to distance herself far from it—the kind of person these anti-trafficking campaigns (whose web links are posted in the “Resources” section of the film’s website www.jadethemovie.com) are here for.

Of the other principal actors, Scott McEntire is suitably creepy as vile Prince, portraying the menacing pimp in a disturbingly plausible manner; Verda Davenport-Booher is excellent as helpful Marcie, the “guardian angel” (if you will) of the story (she has that distinctive presence as an actress, and there’s just something about her voice that makes you want to listen to whatever she says); Joe Ochterbeck is winningly sincere as Garrett, and also finds the right note of realistic goofiness for comic relief. Also terrific is Kayla Esmond as Nina, who was Jade’s lone companion and fellow victim of abduction.

What it really comes down to with “Jade” is the message, which is that there is a way for people with tragic pasts to overcome their fears and turn everything around for the better. Jade finds the courage to break free from her bonds, and from seeing the horrific memories of what she’s been through, we know she needed to. The truth of the matter is that human trafficking is a terrible reality in today’s society. We may not know about it, it may be covered up, we may not notice it if it’s right around us…but it is here.

“Jade” gets its message across and it also manages to end with a sense of courage and hope, and thankfully Carson’s script didn’t succumb to conventional plot gimmicks in order to do so. This film is very effective, and I hope it finds its audience during its festival run and beyond.

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