Movie review: Ash
Set against the backdrop of the scorched British Columbia landscape during fire season, director Andrew Huculiak pulls off the near-impossible by delivering a sympathetic portrait of Interior spaces singed by fear and loathing.
Starring: Michael Guinee, Chelah Horsdahl
Directed by: Andrew Huculiak
Running time: 1 hr 44 mins
Rating: Not yet rated
Available on iTunes, VOD July 28, 2020
By Katherine Monk
The strange orange sky. The clinging smell of smoke, and that dry feeling at the back of your throat. Forest fire season in British Columbia has now seared itself into a sense memory — and an easily kindled threat. The fires were such a powerful reminder of how small we are — and how easily everything we have can be taken away — that they’re a perfect symbol of life’s impermanence, and the unknowability of nature itself. In Andrew Huculiak’s Ash, forest fires form the eerie backdrop of a personality drama that takes the viewer into the crucible of shame.
Stan Hurst (Tim Guinee) runs a small town website in Peachland, reporting local news and chronicling the exploits of the town’s daily heroes. We catch him in his element, dodging fire lines to get footage of advancing flames. He’s looking to prove himself to the big city news machine, staying up all night tracking the orange glow on the horizon — returning home to his wife covered in soot, but feeling the endorphin rush of getting the story.
We can see he’s committed, and a little obsessive. But Stan has deeper secrets. And when the police knock on his door to confiscate his computer and his hard drives, the crucible starts blazing in his living room. Stan is under investigation for child pornography, turning the one-time local hero into a publicly loathed pariah. His wife (Chelah Horsdahl) is desperate to understand, and so is Stan — but the fires of destruction surround them, and time is running out.
Stan is under investigation for child pornography, turning the one-time local hero into a publicly loathed pariah. His wife (Chelah Horsdahl) is desperate to understand, and so is Stan — but the fires of destruction surround them, and time is running out.
Based on the true story of Dave Preston, and his book Truth be Told: The Dark Side of OCD, Ash puts us in a highly uncomfortable place. But Huculiak is such a gifted young director, we find ourselves floating through this alien landscape with poetic grace. And I mean grace — in just about every sense of the word.
He steps back from judgment and lets us watch Stan as he wrestles with his own destructive forces, all set against the dramatic backdrop of the all-consuming conflagration eating the town away hectare by hectare. Gorgeous cinematography by Joseph Schweers captures eerie scenes of white flakes falling from the sky, turning a colour photograph of Lake Okanagan into a black and white still life. We see images of horses running wild through the woods, phone numbers hastily painted on their haunches… and the ever-glowing horizon line, ready to swallow the town whole. Because the images are so strong, the creative talents so sharp, and so sympathetic to the larger drama, Huculiak has pulled off the near-impossible. He takes us into the life of a man accused of the ugliest crimes we can conjure, and delivers a study of empathy and forgiveness.
Main image: Tim Guinee swims in Lake Okanagan under an orange sky.
Watch Ash trailer here: https://vimeo.com/359854329
Read Katherine’s 2016 interview with Andrew Huculiak and how he made his award-winning debut feature Violent. Peruse a full sample of Katherine Monk reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.
THE EX-PRESS, July 31, 2020