Barry Jay’s Ashes is yet another entry into the evil spirit haunts a family genre. However, it finds surprising depths and inventive ways to keep its oft-told story feeling fresh and engaging. The story begins when Ellyn’s (Elizabeth Keener) aunt Marion (Melinda DeKay) dies, and the ashes have been sent to Ellyn. Her husband Duane (Jeremy Isaiah Earl) and oldest daughter Camille (Angelique Maurane) vote to bury them or dump the ashes into the ocean.
Melanie (Yumarie Morales), the younger daughter, believes that Marion’s wish for her to remain in the house should be abided. However, the longer the family is around the ashes, the more terrible and tragic events unfold. After several nightmares about her aunt, and a few inexplicable injuries, Ellyn makes a spirit board. But contacting Marion only incites further ire from beyond the grave. Eventually, the family contacts two brothers who have a connection to the other side. Why is Aunt Marion tormenting Ellyn and her family? Is there a way of stopping her before Marion kills everyone?
“Why is Aunt Marion tormenting Ellyn and her family?”
Jay’s screenplay is filled with little moments that ensure the family unit is believable. Camille informs her parents that she is pregnant. At first, they were a bit taken aback but are quite happy with the news overall. Melaine’s constant big-picture thinking makes sense but wears out her parents on occasion. The dialogue is also quite natural sounding and ensures the proceedings are grounded in reality.
Though not all is happy, shiny, go-lucky. The script falters in two ways, one is massive, and the other is smaller. Ellyn’s brother Jay (Brandon Lamberty) shares one particular story of Aunt Marion’s strange behavior. He was bedridden and asked Marion to turn the television to channel two. She enters the room and turns the channel, but she forgot to turn the TV on (this is one of those sets with the big turners on the side itself). Maybe the children’s loud laughter at her faux pas isn’t the best reaction. But, it was a silly thing to do. These types of stories are all the audience has to go on, so Marion being extremely pissed off that these people ridiculed her does not make a lot of sense.
“…little moments that ensure the family unit is believable.”
But the scares are so effective, and the cast is brilliant, which means this lack of substance surrounding the supernatural hauntings does not hurt Ashes much. No, the movie’s hard stumble is introduced abruptly and is forgotten about just as quickly. Melanie decides to move in with her boyfriend Ty (Damien Diaz). Up until her pronouncement over dinner, the audience is unaware of Ty’s existence, much less how serious things are between Melanie and Ty. Then we are shown her life with him. Ty gets angry that Melanie posted on social media about their place together. He goes on a profanity-laden tirade and attempts to choke her out.
The mood of this sequence is entirely different from anything before, or after. Plus, after everything is resolved, Ty is never so much as mentioned again. It adds nothing to Melanie’s overall arc and given that it does not further the main story at all. Going back to the editing bay and slicing this segment out would significantly improve Ashes.
Ashes has one unnecessary and uncomfortable (in a bad way) sequence. It also does not give its supernatural villain enough nuance to work entirely. But, the core characters speak realistically and have depth, the direction is moody and atmospheric, and the cast is fantastic.