Trail Of Ashes


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Trail Of Ashes
"The myriad ideas on display are never adequately developed."

A kingdom at war. Two brothers raised on opposite sides of the conflict. A missing princess. A haunting prophecy. Arturo Lizardi's Trail Of Ashes has all the ingredients needed to make a great fantasy thriller, but somehow it just doesn't thrill.

The opening scenes are strong. Soldiers pursue a woman through the forest, eventually trapping her at the river's edge. Riding with them is the Empress, an imposing, veiled figure dressed in scarlet. This part of the film is beautifully shot, pacy and engaging, but then suddenly we skip forward several generations to a small dark room where a prisoner is under interrogation. Whilst intermittent shots of the mountains bring relief, most of what follows is set in similar spaces, doing away with the potential for epic action and sweeping fantasy vistas. Lizardi originally conceived this as a book and it hasn't travelled far off the page.

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The prisoner is one of the aforementioned brothers. What he doesn't know is that his chief interrogator is the other brother, in disguise. Brother number two is trying hard to find a means of saving brother number one, but he's getting little by way of cooperation. Brother number one seems resigned to his fate, having done his bit for some resistance movement which we learn little about. The trouble is that we don't learn much about the brothers either, beyond this simple dynamic, so we don't really have a reason to root for them.

There's a lot going on in the background. Mysterious masked inquisitors stalk around the city, inspiring terror but never actually doing very much. We meet the kidnapped princess, a brave but bored-seeming 12-year-old who doesn't seem to have much agency regardless of her circumstances, her whole life a process of waiting until she puts on the veil and takes the throne. Ordinary people seem habitually cowed, but this is all we really get to tell us that they're living under tyranny. The ruling matriarchy doesn't seem to bring much benefit to those at the top either.

The problem with all this is that the myriad ideas on display are never adequately developed. Lizardi seems to have thought through his worldbuilding in great detail but he doesn't successfully communicate it to the audience. We get a lot of tantalising glimpses of what might well be a great story setting, but not enough to make up for the lack of great story.

Although there's some interesting stuff here, Trail Of Ashes falls short of the mark. It's a very long 98 minutes for so little to happen in, and despite flashes of inspiration, it never lights up as it should.

Reviewed on: 30 Nov 2020
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The search for the empress's daughter reunites two long lost brothers who grew up on opposite sides of a war and now must choose between family bonds and political alliances.

Director: Arturo Lizardi

Writer: Arturo Lizardi, Samari Vega

Starring: Héctor Escudero, Cecilia Arguelles, Arturo Lizardi, Jasmin Sanabria, Migdalia Rosario, Carlos Miranda

Year: 2020

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Puerto Rico, US


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