For the last 10 years in small pockets of American indie cinema there have been a large number of “Faith” based films popping up more and more in the lexicon, almost to the point where it can be called a sub-genre all it’s own. Alex Kendrick, the writer/director/producer/star and erstwhile Christian Pastor paved the way for this movement with a string of highly successful religiously steeped melodramas, such as Flywheel, Facing The Giants and Fireproof. Ashes of Eden is a feign attempt at joining the ranks of this fast-growing sub-genre.
Troubled teen Red (Shane Sutherland) has seemingly been on the wrong side of the tracks for most of his adolescent years. He gets into trouble at school, at home and wherever he seems to land himself. Red’s hard working police officer mother Dana (Melissa Anschutz) is about at her wits end with him, and now that he is getting into trouble with the law, he makes her life all the more difficult. As Red falls deeper and deeper involving himself with a Latino drug kingpin, he needs the support and help from his police officer mother more than ever.
Ahes of Eden, a feature film from writer/producer/director/editor/co-star Shane Hagedorn can easily fit into the same company as Kendrick’s films in substance, but definitely not style. Although produced for relatively meager budgets, Kendrick’s films can still come off as slickly produced Hollywood fare. Ashes of Eden, albeit produced on a much smaller scale is a flat line of a film in terms of its structure and production. The film attempts to make Red’s decent into the gritty streets of crime seem as real as you could possibly see in a film. In contrast, scenes are clichéd and poorly conceived, it’s as if Hagedorn had watched one too many episodes of Third Watch and thought that must be how life on the street really is. For a film trying to maintain a down trodden and rough around the edges persona, it is overly glossy in its presentation. Scenes are shot very blandly in the way a poorly made TV pilot would be structured. Every shot is way too well lit for anything to appear rough and there are indeed some very insulting stereotypes in the way the film’s depiction of the Latinos comes across. There is even a bumbling character named “Ponch”, added in for comic relief.
Sutherland, miscast in the lead role, seems to pout through the majority of his scenes with his steel eyes and structured cheekbones. One might almost say his character should just drop the crime racket, move to New York and become a male model. Anschutz has great opportunities for some terrific scenes early on in the film and delivers some nice work, but by the end of the film her character simply runs out of gas in the level of emotions the actress can convey from her bag of tools.
Faith is sporadically touched upon throughout the film, and although it makes itself fully aware it is a big part of the film’s theme, I found it never really lent itself much to the development of the story or characters. Ashes of Eden instead comes across as a PSA of sorts for the Christian faith, not necessarily focusing on what the faith can bring to your life for the better, but the terrible perils that can happen if you don’t decide to follow the doctrine; if one doesn’t believe in the faith, surely a terrible life of crime awaits you. Ashes of Eden is a part of Kendrick’s circle of films now, and it will most likely find an audience amongst that circle’s followers, but it is a poorly conceived parable and a misguided addition to the flock.
If you would like to know more about Ashes of Eden you can visit the film’s website here: http://www.ashesofedenmovie.com