Disturbing and hilarious in equal amounts, “Ashes” is a surprising indie horror film with a unique premise that I think will please a lot of horror fans.
Ashes is an interesting take on the conundrum many of us have had; What to do with a dearly departed family member’s ashes, after they are cremated. Combining black comedy with a dose of some seriously gory horror, we ride along on one family’s journey to hell and back.
Ok, so I have something to admit. I received my father’s ashes after he passed away back in 2001. I have not known what to do with them, so I have been carrying the box around from house to house, thinking that eventually I will have an epiphany. I thought about scattering the ashes in a lake, since he liked to fish, in the rose garden at the Elks Club where he was a member, or even dropped stealthily at a football field since he played football. But no, the box is still with me, sitting in the grandfather clock he built.
When I saw what the film Ashes was about, I had to laugh. Here was the perfect movie for me. Luckily, my father and I were on good terms when he passed, because this film shows what can happen if you treat a family member badly; Their vengeful spirit will come back to haunt your ass!
After a family’s “black sheep” aunt passes away, they’re reluctant and creeped out to receive her cremated ashes. But when a series of strange, supernatural misfortunes beset them, they’ll have to go through hell to be rid of her angry spirit once and for all.
The film begins with husband and wife, Duane (Jeremy Earl) and Ellyn (Elizabeth Keener) sharing their feelings about Aunt Marion with the audience. I’m not quite sure who they were supposed to be talking to. But I really didn’t care, since I just allowed them to talk to me. I was smiling from the first few minutes in. I felt so welcomed into this family’s life. Watching Ellyn try to find a place to stash the ashes was very entertaining. Most people would not enjoy finding someone’s remains in their closet!
The bereaved family doesn’t seem overly upset about their Aunt Marion’s death. With the help of flashbacks, we see why. Ellyn and her brother Jay (Brandon Lamberty) were very cruel to their creepy old Aunt Marion (Melinda deKay). While I get that she was a strange woman, they were awful to he. And I saw why she might not feel too loving towards them.
Actress Melinda deKay was incredible as Aunt Marion!
She was truly frightening and very serious. If she had been silly or campy, this film wouldn’t have worked. She was so thoroughly committed to the character that it gave me chills!
The relationship between the family members was very genuine. I liked them all. Mom and Dad, their daughters Camille and Melanie (Angelique Maurnae, Yumarie Morales), Ellyn’s mom Caroline (Elaine Partnow); all were believable. And I wanted them to survive. Even as I cringed when they did mean things to Aunt Marion, like scaring her on Gate Night (the night before Halloween) so bad she peed her granny gown, I still wanted them all to get through this together.
Ellyn has it the worst and starts looking old and grey. The stress, or something, was aging her fast.
The surprise arrival of Aunt Marion’s caretaker Gail (Maria Olsen) brought another scary person into the mix. When they realize that Aunt Marion may have been studying Black Magic and Gail does something terrible in their bathroom, things really start falling apart. People start dying.
From then on, things go to hell at a record pace.
The closest to campy the film got was when the daughters break down and hire some paranormal investigators. Chip and Ronnie — the Polter-Guys (Casey James Knight, Parker Wright) — reminded me of the investigators hired in the Insidious series. The two ghost-busting brothers brought in their own comedy elements, along with some serious moments too.
I have two favorite scenes.
The first was when Ellyn and Duane drop the container of ashes and are covered with the dust. When Ellyn was coughing and pulls a long string of matted gray hair out of her throat, I almost lost it in a combination of disgust and laughter. The second is the Ouija board scene. I’m not gonna spoil what happens. But let’s just say using an egg slicer as the planchet was not a good idea!
Ashes was an eclectic mix of comedy, with an effectively scary atmosphere, alongside some very gruesome horror.
Kudos to the terrific SFX from make-up done by Laura Lieffring and Sioux Sinclair, whose work I have loved in the past. Though there was an abundance of humor, the scares were big, loud and gory!
This film is not a parody, because there are very dark and real moments. But it’s not a straight up horror film either. It wasn’t found footage, because not everyone dies.
Ashes has some amazing and well-timed comedy elements, mixed in with genuinely terrifying and violent horror. Oddly enough it works.