Directed By Elias Matar
2010 – 88 Minutes/Widescreen
DVD Provided by 2 Red Rabbit Films
Article written by Craig Hamann

Dr. Andrew Stanton is a hard worker. He sees patient after patient in the emergency wing of the hospital, oftentimes turning in long hours. What’s more, he’s diligently working on an experimental vaccine, maybe even a cure, for AIDS. Stanton has a beautiful wife and a lovely daughter, but the demands of his job and research work means he doesn’t get to see them that much. It’s stressing his relationship with his family, which bothers Stanton because he genuinely loves them. But that’s not all. The selfish hospital administrator is more concerned about public exposure and money than he is about a breakthrough med for AIDS. Stanton is also being hounded by outside forces that want to capitalize financially on the promising tests for the vaccine, hoping to turn it into a profitable business instead of a life saving health issue.

Stanton tries to be as good-natured as possible as he burns a candle at both ends. It’s not easy, but he believes things at home and work will all get better once he’s completed his research. During this time, he ends up treating a young Spanish boy who has been stung by a highly venomous jellyfish that washed ashore. The good doctor tries desperately to save the boy, even injecting him with the experimental infection killing vaccine. The results are disastrous. The boy goes into shock and reacts harshly to the medicine. Before he dies, he bites Stanton on the arm.

The boy’s death bothers Stanton. First, he feels as if he should have been able to do more to help the kid. Second, his experimental vaccine didn’t do its job. Third and most importantly, if the vaccine contributed at all to the boy’s death, then that makes Stanton a killer – at least in his mind it does. But all that is nothing compared to what comes next. Somehow the experimental drug creates new bacteria that decimates the immune system and turns its host (the human body) into a savage creature with an appetite for human flesh and blood. And the boy’s bite has infected Stanton. Yes, I know, this all sounds as if it’s heading down familiar territory. In some ways it is. But the difference here is that it’s all done superbly well and succeeds in providing the viewer with a great suspense/horror flick.

Far too often horror filmmakers wink at the audience and say, “We’re not serious.” Then they fill their films with sight gags, bad one-liners, and cheesy scenes. But if that’s the case, then why should the audience take their movies seriously? Let’s clear the air once and for all about this. The real reason why so many production companies go campy with their horror releases is because they don’t have the script, cast, and direction to make a truly frightening movie. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Elias Matar’s film. ASHES is a confident work that carefully constructs the life of its lead character for the audience, making him a likable but obsessed man that deserves success both in his work and family life. We follow Stanton through his trials, all the time rooting for him to somehow find a way to overcome the problems that are suffocating him. At the same time an undercurrent of suspense is building in the story until it reaches a feverish pitch in the third act. And speaking of the third act, it’s a humdinger, being thrilling, shocking, startling, and even tragic all at the same time. Seriously, this is quality work, folks.

There is no way I can give this film kudos without mentioning the first rate job by lead actor Brian Krause. Krause is in almost every scene in the movie, meaning that the audience watches his every move from overworked doctor to struggling family man to infected predator. Krause turns in an earnestly believable performance that offers the complexities and conflicting emotions tearing away at Stanton as he tries to do the right thing for humanity. Bottom line, if Krause’s performance fails, the movie fails. Not to worry, though, because Krause’s performance lifts the movie in every possible way. Definitely a good move on director Matar’s part to cast Krause in the role. Underrated actor Kadeem Hardison is also worth mentioning as Matthew, a lab technician that works side-by-side with Stanton on the experimental vaccine. Krause and Hardison have a good rapport with each other and they make the audience believe that these two medical researchers just might have a chance to cure a global disease that has killed too many and been around for too long. That is, if they’re left alone to do their work and are not pummeled by outside politics and greed. I also enjoyed the lovely Sierra Fisk as Nicole, Stanton’s frustrated wife. This is a woman that badly wants her marriage to work and needs her husband at home, but also realizes the accountability of his job. Fisk is good at portraying the conflict and confusion that Nicole lives with daily. Oh, and she’s also ridiculously sexy in the role. The supporting cast is solid and works well with, and not against, the film’s dramatic content.

Since the DVD disc that I watched was a screener, there were no extras. Therefore, I have no idea what might be offered with the DVD that will be released to the public. Picture and sound quality are fine. No real complaints. Most importantly, the film is a top shelf thriller. It offers an entertaining and suspenseful screenplay by Matar and co-writer Edward E. Romero, good direction by Matar, and a competent cast, especially with Brian Krause as Stanton. There is a steady build of suspense, a wild and horrific third act, and even a few philosophical questions along the way. I highly recommend ASHES to genre fans that like decent story and characterization in their horror films.