Losing a family member is never easy. Their passing can remind you of the good times you shared, but it can also bring up painful memories of long-forgotten feuds, disagreements, and bad blood. The latter is the focus of Barry Jay’s ASHES.

In ASHES, Ellen (Elizabeth Keener) finds her calm family life changing rapidly after the death of her long-suffering Aunt Marion (Melinda DeKay). The older woman had been an eccentric loner in life and not very well liked by the rest of the family. In fact, as teens Ellen and her brother Jay (Brandon Lamberty) often played cruel pranks on her. One of these pranks scared Marion so badly she wet herself. 

Every family has a punching bag, a person the rest of the family uses as the butt of their jokes. Marion, it seems, was this family’s. Then the ashes arrive. 

Turns out, Marion’s final wish was for Ellen to have her cremated remains. Ellen’s not jazzed on the idea, but after a thorough guilt trip from her daughter Melanie (Yumarie Morales) she acquiesces. Aunt Marion will be fine in the attic; they won’t even remember she’s there. And, after a day or two, no one will notice if Ellen actually makes good on getting rid of them.

Then things start going wrong. Really wrong. With startling speed, the family hits a string of bad luck that leaves injury, violence, and death in its wake. With no logical explanation to cling to, Ellen starts to wonder if there was more to Aunt Marion’s last wishes.

Can Ellen get to the bottom of these seemingly supernatural attacks and save her family from destruction?

While the plot may seem serious on paper, make no mistake, this movie is fun. Writer-directory Barry Jay, understands that humor is a natural bedfellow to tragedy, and he uses this philosophy in the film’s interview sequences. These When Harry Met Sally-style interludes move the story along while breaking up the tension between more traditional horror scenes. Jay lets the characters’ disagreements play out naturally and more than once uses a veritable dialogue dogpile of people talking over each other to great effect.

The cast is a true delight. Lead by Elizabeth Keener (sister to Katherine Keener), these actors easily take you on a journey that’s equal parts family drama and supernatural thriller with a commitment and groundedness that’s so often overlooked in lower-budget films.

But it’s the storytelling that really makes ASHES stand out. Jay maximizes every opportunity to scare, horrify, and squick you out. Innocent kitchen utensils become potentially painful threats, puffs of smoke take on devious life, and let’s not even talk about what happens with Marion’s remains. ASHES is a ghostly, grim, and giggle-filled time. Definitely check it out as it is now available on Digital and Video On Demand.

Adrienne Clark
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