New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: SHORT FILM REVIEW: Amongst the Ashes

AMONGST THE ASHES– 4 STARS

When the camera introduces us to the two men that will occupy Matthew Weinstein’s short film Amongst the Ashes, we don’t know quite what to make of them. The first of the two (Bryce Bashford) is staring intently at a mausoleum vault for a departed married couple named Peter and Iris Hunt. The stamped dates of their ages would put them about old enough to be this visitor’s parents. Back to the shaggy and jacketed gentlemen, we don’t know if he’s visiting or passing through.

The second man (Nick Marcos) is wearing a vest and gloves and is propped up against the entryway outside this mausoleum corridor. He’s not focused on anything the way the first man is. He’s coiled in minor impatience and lighting a cigarette. The only other living soul that appears to be around are the wild white-tailed deer traipsing through the grounds.

When the man paying his respects meets the other, he comes across as the do-gooder to ask, in an open-air cemetery, if smoking was allowed. The second man looks around the empty surroundings and replies on whether it matters. He piles on with the line “Are you just going to stand all day with your dick in your hands?” The second man chides the first verbally to wonder why the first didn’t bring his lady with him. Returning to the bad habit of the cigarette, a line is dropped next of, “Smoking is for trash that sits in the desert without shit to do.”

LESSON #1: THERE’S A SHORTHAND TO SIBLING COMMUNICATION– After some initial mystery of potential threat conveyed through these introductions, the drift is caught, so to speak, from their dialogue. These two unnamed men are brothers. The shorthand of their dueling tones of lecture and admonishment comes through to create this clearer truth. The distilled heft of Amongst the Ashes now has bearing.

As they leave this initial area for the expansive threads of aisles, headstones, and manicured grass of St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois, the conversation changes to one of the future rather than the interred past. The first man announces his plan to propose to his off-screen girlfriend, to which the second man stops his gate and raises an eyebrow as to why that notion came up while in this setting of all places. But then, you remember who was likely being visited at that mausoleum and the invisible search for spirit and blessing all makes sense.

LESSON #2: WHEN AND WHERE TO OVERTHINK AND FOR WHAT– Like the second brother’s reaction, there is a mystery of thoughts and intentions bubbling up in Amongst the Ashes. He calls it like it is, telling his brother not to say a prepared script. He calls overthinking a waste of time and doubles down to declare that “love is essentially borrowed time… something to lose when not careful, and it can’t come back.” In an excellent monologue performed by Nick Marcos, one of several scripted gems from Weinstein, the bald brother of the two, who appears to be the older one as well, couldn’t be more right.

LESSON #3: THE IMAGE OF ST. GERTRUDE AND REVERENCE OF A MYSTIC– As fate would have it, the visited mausoleums of Amongst the Ashes in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery are graced with the image of St. Gertrude the Great. She was a simple woman hailed as a mystic and a saint of charity and of the purification to those stuck in purgatory. Just maybe, from a symbolic standpoint, these two brothers feel parallel to such an existential rut, only on the earthly side. A mystic such as Gertrude would seek contemplation and personal surrender in times of apprehension. Through this place and the intimate family company, that is precisely the stroke of destiny on display.

Amongst the Ashes is unshy to place this candid-yet-meaningful conversation in a location many will find morbid and backs the walk-and-talk with a serene electronic score from Murmur Studio. In doing so, writer and director Matthew Weinstein challenges the audience to find their heart-to-heart mojo from a darker place, no matter the lush sunshine and exquisite wide shot selections captured on camera by director of photography Austin Vinas. Thanks to patient reveals of mindsets among the two actors and the shared time to see their interplay bond further, the finished short film succeeds in dramatic pull.

LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#1040)

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