When watching independent films it’s important to keep an open mind. They are seen as being more experimental and don’t tend to follow typical tropes laid out by bigger-budgeted works. That can be both a blessing and a curse because these tropes exist for a reason and removing them from a genre can end in disaster.
Ashes is a film that attempts to bring together the genres of comedy and horror. Of course, it’s not the first film to do this as other films such as Drag Me to Hell and Happy Death Day have shown it’s something that’s possible to work under the right circumstances. Still, it’s important to note that this is something that is difficult to do because the filmmaker must walk a fine line and do a great balancing act to bring it all together.
The story is told as though the family is being filmed by a TV crew. It’s never explained why, and we never see who the people are that are filming them. Ellyn and her family discuss her Aunt Marion with the crew and explain that she was odd when they were growing up. Ellyn and her brother Jay spent their childhood teasing Marion due to her odd behavior and goaded on by their mother, Caroline.
Due to being Marion’s next of kin, Ellyn receives her ashes after she dies. Initially not caring about the situation, she begins to notices strange things happening to her family after having a prophetic dream from her dead father. Soon after, violent occurrences shake her household and the family must come together to find a way to stop the vengeful spirit of Marion from carrying out her final laugh.
Note: Spoilers for the rest of the film are below. Please do not click on the spoiler tags unless you wish to have the rest of the film ruined for you.
The outcast of the family that dies unexpectedly and leaves her ashes to her niece, Ellyn. Her bizarre behavior alienated her from the rest of the family and caused her to be teased by them.
A housewife who used to tease her aunt when she was a kid. She now has to deal with what to do with her aunt’s ashes.
Ellyn’s husband who is a recovering drug addict. He is a typical loving father and husband who would do anything to protect his family.
Ellyn and Duane’s oldest daughter who works as a stripper. She lives on her own with her boyfriend and finds out she is pregnant.
Ellyn and Duane’s youngest daughter. She still lives at home and has a self-righteous attitude when it comes to Aunt Marion’s ashes. She didn’t know her but feels like her remains should be respected.
Ellyn’s mother who didn’t like Aunt Marion, her husband’s sister. She’s very naggy and stuck in her way. She, along with her children, treated Aunt Marion poorly throughout their life.
Ellyn’s brother. He looks back on his teasing of his aunt fondly, as if they were both in on the jokes. However, through flashbacks, we see he was quite cruel towards her.
Acting and Character Chemistry
This is one of the few independent films I’ve seen where the cast was filled with good actors. Elizabeth Keener (Ellyn) was probably the strongest out of the rest of the cast, but that might be because she had the most screen time out of everyone else. Their family dynamic actually worked well, and they all felt like a believable family. I find that important to note because since they are supposed to be a mixed-race family if that chemistry wouldn’t have been there then it would have been harder to see them as a real family.
There was some overacting, like with Caroline constantly playing up the nagging grandma angle and just constantly talking over everybody else. That may have been more of a script issue than characterization, though.
This was probably one of the strongest aspects of the film. Despite it being an indie film, it didn’t seem like one for most of the film. In 90% of the film mostly only practical effects were used. For example, there was a point while Ellyn was using the spirit board she made where Marion appeared behind her out of the shadows. That looked really nice and like something out of Insidious. Sadly, that was thrown out the window at other times when they used cheesy special effects that look like they were from developed in the 90s.
By the end of the film, it was just completely awful and it completely took me out of it. It’s such a shame because I really feel like they could have really made this work in their favor. They just failed to do so.
The music wasn’t anything that stood out to me. Of course, there were ambient sounds and “spookie” music throughout that is standard in all horror films. At the very least it was professional sounding and instead of something you’d find for free off of YouTube.
It’s listed as being both a Comedy and Horror movie. As stated previously, this can definitely work even though it sounds like it shouldn’t. However, you have to know what you’re doing and I really don’t think the filmmakers did. At its core, I believe it was meant to be a horror film with some jokes thrown in. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work well here. Most of the jokes are kind of just the “blink and you missed it” sort. Some of them got a small “ha” out of me, but nothing really stands out. It’s almost as if the filmmakers couldn’t commit to one genre and instead kept jumping back and forth between the two.
I think of trying to make a funny scary movie, they should have picked a genre and focused on trying to make a good movie. It’s great when you can make the concept work, but when you miss it’s blatantly obvious and fails horribly.
It’s really frustrating coming across a film like Ashes and coming out of it disappointed. This is because I can see all of the potential that could have been realized but ultimately fell short. It was just kind of dull and left a lot to be desired. It was also really inconsistent and the overall premise didn’t make a lot of sense. The paranormal investigators the hired were legit, yet their ad made them look like tools. Jay was the one who tortured Marion the most, but she primarily went after Ellyn and her family.
For a Comedic Horror film, it wasn’t very funny nor was it very frightening. At the very least it could have been an entertaining ride, but I don’t feel like it does enough to keep the audience’s attention.