I'm probably not telling you anything you didn't already know, but hospitals are pretty much the place to NOT be. No one wants to be there as a patient (because it means they're sick), no one wants to be there as a visitor (because it means someone they care about is sick), and no one wants to work there (because anyone there is sick or exposed to sickness). You could argue that babies want to be there, but they're babies - they don't know what they're talking about. So when you're introduced to someone who actually wants to be at a hospital, you have to kind of wonder about them.
Enter Dr. Andrew Stanton, played by Brian Krause, the lead character of Ashes. Dr. Stanton is presented immediately as one of those "driven" fellas who works because he believes in what he's doing. He's deeply involved in research to find a cure for that demonic disorder known as AIDS, and he responds to emergency calls with comments that imply that he lives for those moments. He certainly cares about what's going on around him, which puts him squarely in trouble's path when he begins to provide experimental care to young boy who was the victim of a sting from a beached jellyfish. (The great thing about horror movies? I could not have made that up.)
The film is Dr. Stanton's journey from that point forward, and Krause is tasked with carrying the film in a dramatic manner. I had previously encountered Krause in a few films - like Loch Ness Terror (which was featured on the SyFy Network) and Sleepwalkers (which I thought was kind of embarrassingly bad) - so I will say that I was a little leery of him carrying a dramatic horror film going into the film. I'm therefore glad to say that I was very pleased with his performance in the lead. It's not a perfect performance - there are a few scenes when his character is spiraling out of control that seem forced - but it's a very good one that meets the film's needs. Krause really buys in to the role, both physically and mentally, which makes him an enjoyable face of the film's plot.
The plot of the film follows a formula we've seen before - exposure, trouble, repeat - and does so in an intelligent manner. Director Elias Matar handles things with a clear vision for where his film is going, and doesn't rush things. The film only runs 88 minutes, and it uses almost every one of those minutes perfectly to advance the story of infection and disease. Some of the side plots - like the government agency inquisitor who gets involved with the Doctor's work - don't fire on all cylinders, but Matar and Krause keep the film grounded with the lead character's plight and do a good job of refocusing the attention when the film suffers its momentary lapses in judgment. The final act of Ashes had me scratching my head a little - I think I wanted to see more of what was going on - but considering the film's resources it makes sense to keep things focused on Dr. Stanton.
I can't say I was blown away by Matar's film, but I did find a lot to like about it. This is a smart thriller that doesn't cheat the viewer, with the hospital setting providing some realistic and frantic drama and Stanton's outside life adding to the horrifying side of the proceedings. Matar shows that he understands the balance that is needed to present a real world horror tale, which is especially impressive for a director making his first feature. I think the film's a little too standardized at moments - we've seen doctor creates monster and races to fix things before - but Ashes does its best to provide a new twist on the formula several times throughout the film. The final product is worth looking out for, and I have to think that Matar is a filmmaker who could continue to make his mark on cinema in the coming years.