FILM REVIEW: AYLA (Fantastic Planet Film Festival)
As someone once said: sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck…
If there is one genre that knows how to thrive on crowdfunding, it is horror. As of late, many successful films have come from places such as Kickstarter and Indie Go Go. I myself have had the pleasure of aiding some campaigns in the past few years, and we all have benefited from fruitful projects like THE BABADOOK and Rob Zombie’s 31.
AYLA came to fruition through Kickstarter, with an outstanding campaign, that far surpassed the goal set by its creators. I remember hearing about it, back in 2015, right after it reached it’s financial goal. The wait has been long, but was it worth it?
The official synopsis reads: A man haunted by the death of his 4-year-old sister brings her back to life 30 years later as an adult woman. The consequences are dire.
There are some important things to know about AYLA, which was written and directed by Elias (no last names attached). The idea of a man obsessed with his sister’s death comes from its creator’s own personal life, who sadly experienced the loss of a 2-year-old sister.
When the main character, Elton (Nicholas Wilder) evokes a grown-up version of his long dead sister, he does so by his sheer force of will. This idea originates in Tibetan Mythology, and it’s called Tulpa, a life form conceived using mental or spiritual powers, something like a more complex version of an imaginary friend. Not only more complex, but also kind of evil.
AYLA’s entire first act is set to construct Elton’s lingering obsession over his sister. In his not so right mind, he believes that she’s not a child anymore and that she’s trying to approach him from the afterlife. He has a very particular mental picture of her and her haunting shape grows closer to him day after day. The sister is played by none other than actress/performer Tristan Risk, one of the most remarkable names in the Canadian horror scene.
In the film’s most outstanding sequence, Elton suffers some sort of epiphany that results in the rebirth of his sister Ayla. Rooted under a tree in the middle of the woods, lies a cocoon made of something that has a nightmarish resemblance to human skin. That creepy thing hatches and the girl is then reborn.
From an early moment, the film adopts a sexual motif that persists towards its very end. Since AYLA is constantly dabbling in subjects like death, loss and grief, this sexual innuendo comes off as completely Freudian. Most of Elton’s sexual encounters with his girlfriend, for instance, result in some sort of connection to his sister, bringing forth this incredibly uncomfortable incestuous vibe.
Risk portrays the character as highly sexualized, and yet very innocent, thus being a mysterious and enigmatic character. If Elton was already obsessed over the mere image of Ayla, her physical presence exerts an even stronger effect on him. He slowly descends into madness, giving in to self-mutilation and bursts of anger.
Even though the first act of the film focuses heavily on Elton, the character feels too underdeveloped. Only one side of his personality is worked on, and that is his obsession. Besides that, there isn’t much about him that would make us truly care or connect. That becomes a problem because of the narrative’s over-reliance on his character.
However, the biggest issue I had with AYLA resides on the incidental music. There is a strong visual component to this film that manages to set an eerie and uneasy mood. On the other hand, the score was completely misused from start to finish. The idea of music in film should be to enhance dramatic or emotional scenes, and to set a mood through and through. Instead, what we have here is a complete disregard of a very basic concept of film-making: “less is more”.
They’ve chosen a never-ending stream of music that fails to pinpoint important moments or even to shape the emotional beats, because it’s there all the time. Many interesting scenes that could have highly benefited from silence, were ruined because of excessive use of music.
The film’s strength resides on the bizarre form of relationship developed by brother and sister, which undermine all his other family and romantic ties. Ayla appears to be some of sort of sexual and emotional parasite, and the consequences on his life are indeed dire. Despite of having some issues, mainly with the music, AYLA manages to be an unnerving and atmospheric slow-burn horror, that never relies on jump scares or cheap solutions, which is always commendable.
“AYLA manages to be an unnerving and atmospheric slow-burn horror, that never relies on jump scares or cheap solutions”