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Ayla (Movie Review)

Ayla (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: The intensity of a man's grief over the death of his sister seems to bring her back from the other side.

REVIEW: Even if you don't know what inspired mononymous writer/director Elias to make his new film AYLA, which is the fact that he had a sister who passed away as a child, it is quite obvious in the film that he was telling a very personal story here, so personal that he almost even named the lead character after himself.

Nicholas Wilder, star of Elias's previous feature GUT, plays Elton, a deeply troubled man who is obsessed with the sister he lost thirty years ago, when she was just four years old. It seems his mother Susan (genre icon Dee Wallace) kept the sister alive in his mind for a long time by telling him that she was regularly contacted by her spirit. Eventually that contact ended, and Susan believes the girl, who was named Ayla, moved on. But Elton thinks Ayla is still lingering around them. He feels like she's contacting him, and he keeps seeing her image - not as the child she was, but as the grown woman she should be by now.

Elton's grief over the loss of Ayla is so intense even all these decades later that, during a breakdown in a forest, he seems to will his sister back from "the other side". The woman, played by AMERICAN MARY's Tristan Risk, is birthed from a puddle of slime at the base of a moss-covered tree, and Elton immediately accepts her as his long lost sister. She's a quirky character who doesn't speak, secretes slime, and frequently lets loose with projectile vomiting, but her sickliness just makes Elton even more determined to take care of her.

As he established with the films GUT and DARK (which he wrote), Elias is a filmmaker who likes to take the slow burn approach, and that is certainly the case with AYLA. The story unfolds at a very deliberate pace, and the closest thing to action you get are the sex scenes between Elton and his girlfriend Alex (Wilder's fellow GUT alum Sarah Schoofs). Most of the running time is a trudge through heartbreak, depression, and weirdness. 

Elton and Ayla weren't characters I was really able to connect with emotionally; rather, I was just observing them. Watching these strange events play out, wondering what exactly Ayla was. Dreading the moment that Elton might go a step too far with his ethereal sister figure - there is a sexual element to his obsession with Ayla, before the character arrives in the flesh Elton is already having visions of her going around in the nude. So if he were to get inappropriate with this woman, it wouldn't be a surprise at all.

AYLA is a film I was left feeling somewhat ambivalent about at the end. I love the concept of it, and have lost close loved ones myself, so I know the feeling of grief so intense that you wish it could bring them back into the land of the living. I wanted the film to be a more emotional viewing experience than it was, and it would have been if I had been able to relate to Elton more. But instead of getting in tune with his emotions, I found him to be off-putting. The character in the film I most related to was Elton's younger brother James (D'Angelo Midili), who never knew Ayla and finds Elton's behavior and his insistence that this woman from the forest is their sister to be appalling.

I also found the way the film handles the supernatural side of things, especially the "open to interpretation" ending that everything builds up to, to be frustrating.

It is a strong artistic and technical achievement, and there will be viewers who will be swept away by the cinematography, the editing, the score, and the strange, dark atmosphere. The less you question what's happening, the better. I was just left wishing that I had been able to feel more for the characters, and that I had been able to get a better understanding of what exactly was going on.

Extra Tidbit: Freestyle Digital Media will be giving AYLA a VOD release in the U.S. on April 3rd.

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