Creating a story set in a fantastical universe is difficult. There are certain tropes that should be avoided and a greater emphasis on explaining this new world than in films centered in other genres. With that in mind, Trail of Ashes, directed by Arturo Lizardi, hits a number of cliches and does a sloppy job at setting up the world in which it is set in.
The prologue introduces us to this new world, showing how the empire came to be and why there are people who oppose it. Afterwards, a man named Silas (Arturo Lizardi), a traveling quill (i.e., detective), makes his way to the palace, where he meets up with Empress Voice (Migdalia Rosario). She gives him the rules of residing in the palace, as Silas is there to question people over the disappearance of Empress Voice’s daughter. In particular, he’s there to talk to the daughter’s bodyguard, Mute (Hector Escudero Lobe), who has already been arrested as the main suspect. It turns out that Mute is Silas’ brother and that the quill might have ulterior motives to being at the palace.
What Trail of Ashes fails to do is give the characters any development outside of sad backstories. The majority of the fantasy-mystery focuses on Silas and Mute’s dynamic, but it doesn’t mean anything since their relationship wasn’t shown previously or even told about in passing. None of the other characters are given any actual development either, but it’s especially bad with Silas and Mute since they’re the most prominent characters in the film.
“…Silas is there to question people over the disappearance of Empress Voice’s daughter.”
As for worldbuilding, there sadly isn’t much of it. Outside of the opening scene, very little of the empire is seen; there are mainly just two sets used to an obsessive degree. On top of that, there are virtually no wide shots, adding to the closed-off nature of this world. This doesn’t seem to be by design since the empire is made out to be a force to be reckoned with.
The music and costumes, on the other hand, are very good. There are really good uses of percussion and string melodies that convey the tone of each scene wonderfully. The costumes have interesting designs, engagingly hinting at the larger world never seen. So while the cinematography struggles to break from the confines of the limited setting, several shots are visually interesting.
Overall, there are some strong aspects to Trail of Ashes, which are made all the more impressive due to how small the budget was. It’s a shame that the writing falls short since there was some real promise to what this film could be. It’s not horrendously bad by any means, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.
"…the music and costumes, on the other hand, are very good."