As a film, Andrew Huculiak’s Ash has its share of mood setting elements. Cue the scenes of British Columbia’s forest that it sets to synth music. But there are moments of mundane realism as it depicts a local journalist Stan (Tim Guinee), working in Peachland, a town in British Columbia. He mostly covers the forest fires threatening to ravage his town. He lobs important questions in the direction of the town’s fire chief Terry (Eric Keenleyside), but their relationship is not so adversarial.
Stand and Terry’s interviews have their share of jokes. But the film is more fascinating when Stan is alone, making this a character study of someone trying hard to be a man of integrity. The small-town reporter sometimes must be on the other side of the mic. He has perfect reception and he practices his voice. His press person promises a short interview, but it goes on longer than expected, reflecting how the film wants to meditate on certain scenes. It likes to linger, producing mixed results.
And those scenes get longer when cops show up on Stan’s door and accuse him of an unspeakable crime. It is the kind of crime that is shameful enough to make someone leave their community. These scenes of solitude show Guinee’s performance, honest, and lacking in vanity. Props for him for having a hairstyle that looks like a toupee. The toupee makes him look lik a celebrity who experienced the same disgrace that he does. Anyway, these scenes are also when the moodiness comes back and there is a surprising irony in its use of color.
A festival favorite, Ash passes stylistically but there are flaws in the writing. Firstly, how does one find the time to do crimes in this economy? Second, while investigating Stan, the police must drag his wife Gail (Chelah Horsdal) in the process. That is just basically Gail crying through the whole ordeal. Yes, female characters can feel and think, but audiences of festival films and cop shows know that the latter do these characters slightly better.
I am also thinking of Gail in Ash’s Canadian-ness, which slightly makes sense. Gail is forgiving and passive. There are some people who will watch this who will question her instincts or question the way the film writes her nature. That her decision to stay with him is the film’s way to maintain a female presence here. This film could have done that in much better ways.
But there is still something fascinating in the way Ash plays around with its premise. It is fascinating to watch characters who feel anger and pain and what to do with those emotions. It is worth it to watch Guinee and Horsdal take turns in fleshing these emotions out. After all, these characters are experiencing moments when they can no longer be silent about the forces beyond them.
Ash is available on Vimeo today.