Ash and Bone (2022), a horror thriller directed by Harley Wallen, chooses to tread familiar territory. At malevolent Dark, we have long held that every plot can’t be 100% unique. Therefore, we’ll causally discuss some of the film’s inspirations while refraining from wallowing in the cliché. While Ash and Bone doesn’t bring a ton of new stuff to the table, it does a lot of little things that make it stand out from the plethora of indie films hitting the streaming market like a blood-drenched tsunami.
The Michigan Pick-Axe Massacre
The film begins with the tried and true unnamed female running from some unknown threat. Plowing through the brush and the bramble, her feet find the soothing firmament of asphalt. For a fleeting moment she feels salvation as headlights rise over the hill. As she approaches the vehicle, her elation turns to horror as the report of a high-powered rifle puts a punctuation mark on the story of her life.
On another thread, a family takes high-tension car ride out of the city of Detroit. Lucas Vanderbilt (Harley Wallen) and his newlywed wife Sarah (Kati Wallen) are escaping to the family home with Harley’s troubled daughter Cassie (Angelina Danielle Cama). Harley wants to forge a bond with his new family, but Cassie will never let Sarah replace her real mother. Shortly after arriving, Cassie ejects herself from the family situation and goes out on her own to find something to do.
Cassie meets a couple of locals at the bar. Tucker (Mason Heidger) and Anna (Jamie Bernadette) tell Cassie of the McKinley’s. Long thought to be a local legend, the McKinley’s are rumored to be up to no good. The pair cite the very real and frequent disappearances around town. Of course Cassie, no stranger to breaking and entering, must see for herself. She convinces Tucker and Anna to take her to the house. In a moment of incredibly poor judgement, Cassie slides open a window and sneaks inside.
Once inside the house, all three learn the horrifying truth of the McKinley’s and barely escape with their lives. Unfortunately for them, this would not be their last brush with them.
As discussed, a lot of horror standard tropes are being thrown around. Most notably, serious Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) vibes emanate from this one. Cue up one inbred family in a American gothic home. The similarities go even deeper than this, but we’ll stay away from the spoilers. Possibly more interesting, some of the imagery in Ash and Bone coincidently feel a lot like Steve Merlo’s The Sawyer Massacre (2022).
Then there is the whole Blair Witch Project thing, but considering Cassie’s goth style sensibilities, we’ll say Blair Witch Project 2.
Finally, we get a sprinkle of Last House on the Left (1972) during a home invasion by the McKinley’s. Interestingly, Wallen switches up some of the roles, especially when it comes to the sexual assault aspects. During the finale, the audience gets a final reminder of the Last House on the Left similarities.
If you’re going to recycle old horror tropes, go hard. These are some pretty solid horror references and we are not mad.
Avoiding the Pitfalls Modern Cinematography
We live in a wonderful age of technological advancement. The cost of putting high-quality content on screen has never been lower. The quality is up, the costs are low. Heck, even high-quality video editing can be done on a laptop fit for my mother. Laptop CGI is simply an eventuality. At no other point in the history of cinema have we been able to do so much with so little. As Uncle Owen once said, “With great power comes great responsibility”.
As of late, we have been reviewing a ton of indie horror flicks. More and more, we encounter the visual brutality of high framerates, high definition and an inexplicable lack of focal awareness. To be honest, we’ve even seen big budget films make the same mistake. Harley Wallen and cinematographer Alex Gasparetto avoid this pitfall and Ash and Bone benefits greatly from it.
Using a shallower depth of field, they draw the focus of the audience to the performances (and there are some good ones). Smart lighting and shot-framing work well to capture the human interactions.
Ash and Bone’s cinematography will not be confused with Dario Argento’s Opera (1987) by any stretch, but Wallen and Gasparetto lean into astute cinematic sensibilities enough to create an engaging experience that does not abrade the senses.
Ash and Bone offers several interesting performances. For starters, Harley Wallen not only directs the film, but plays a fairly significant role as Cassie’s father. Not that I should be surprised that he can act, I simply haven’t seen his work. His performance as a concerned father felt authentic enough to carry the narrative. On the other side of the coin, Angelina Danielle Cama portrayed Cassie’s with convincing angst. More importantly, Cama showed an inner strength of character that later becomes critical to her survival.
On the bad-guy side of the fence, Erika Hoveland plays May with calculated malice. During some of her most heinous acts , it actually invokes a bit of sympathy for the character. Of course, this sympathy because her actions seem to be born of loneliness and circumstance. Hoveland’s eyes effortlessly oscillate between piercing calculation and wide-open crazy.
A Conspicuously Bloodless Affair
Wallen and the production team seem to go out of their way to keep the red stuff off of the screen. For a movie based in an extremely violent premise, Ash and Bone shows very little gore. In fact, it shows so little that I wonder if the decision comes from Wallen’s artistic sensibilities or rather a nod to the past. We found the following quote:
“I wanted to make a film in the style of the mid 2000s horror films such as House of Wax, The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. l wanted to follow up Agramon’s Gate with a more raw and imposing horror film.”
— Harley Wallen (Secondary soruce, TheMovieWaffler.com)
Most that know their horror history know that Texas Chainsaw Massacre notoriously lacks blood and gore and instead replaces it with mind-numbing psychological terror and shock. Unfortunately, Ash and Bone simply doesn’t have enough of the brutal aura to completely side-step the gore. In fact, a bit more of the red stuff might have served this one very well.
Bringing it Home
All in all, as a independent horror film, Ash and Bone gets the job done. It appears that Wallen might have aspired for it to be something that never really achieves. Yet, it provides interesting performances and cares enough to go the extra miles to make a professionally produced film. Ash and Bone captured out attention and made us curious to see what Harley Wallen does next. Currently, Ash and Bone can be found on Tubi streaming for free. Support independent horror and go check it out!