Movie Review: “Ash & Dust,” and blood and revenge over a mysterious box

If writer/director/producer/cinematographer/editor and composer Adrian Langley can’t make sense of his muddled thriller “Ash & Dust,” what hope do we mere mortal viewers have?

I mean, kudos for wearing all those hats at once, chief. But all those extra voices you might have had on the set could have told you, “Wait man, this doesn’t make any sense.”

It’s a murderous tale of rural North America, all about the killing people will do to get their hands on this anachronistic box, whose contents we’ll just leave a mystery because that’s what Mr. Langley does.

“Ash” begins with a wintry woodlands chase and execution set in the horseback pursuer/over-under shotgun past.

“Y’can’t outrun fate,” our killer tells his frontier victim before grabbing a box that looks a hundred years more modern than it should.

A century or more later, a guy whose dog gets mauled and killed digs that perfectly-preserved wooden box up whilst burying his pet. He makes the mistake of getting a coin from that box appraised, and all of a sudden a whole daisy chain of killers and relatives-of-killers set upon him, his wife and anybody else they think might have an inkling of where that box is.

We see a thug (Nick Biskupek) and his moll snort cocaine off the box. But that’s not what’s in it.

We see the thug’s nephew (Blake Canning), with a pregnant wife or girlfriend, join in the shenanigans, asking for “work.”

“You know what we do?”

A guy’s shot, left for dead and survives. A laconic loner cop (Kayla Meyer) walks onto various crime scenes and ponders ponders ponders whatever the hell is going on here and whoever the hell it is that’s doing it.

There’s a whole hierarchy of folks — one with an eyepatch, one with a British accent — who want that box, and as most aren’t called by name, I’ll decline to try and look them up. See the credits below for the names of the cast, whose performances range from indifferent to inept.

It’s a difficult movie to get a handle on partly because the timeline seems to jump back and forth. That cop/sheriff wanders upon a crucifixion in a snow-covered field, the young guy drives up to a house in what looks like early fall and inside that house, we see snow out the windows and characters’ breath fogs up as they engage in a little lick the pistol barrel sexual foreplay.

Back and forth it goes, with even its “revenge” motto — that Confucius quote about when you embark on a journey of revenge, remember to “dig two graves” — seeming totally wrong. The first murders and tortures we see have nothing to do with that. Greed is the engine that drives this story, or would if it had any wheels on it.

Simple as it is, “Ash & Dust” lurches between incoherent and shout-at-the-screen mess and there’s barely a minute that’s worth sitting through the other 83 minutes of it for.

Rating: unrated, graphic violence, sexual situations, profanity

Cast: Michael Swatton, Kayla Meyer, Simon Philips, Nick Biskupek, Olivia Tilly, Blake Canning and Anne-Carolyne Binette

Credits: Scripted and directed by Adrian Langley. A Blue Fox release.

Running time: 1:24

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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