The latest in a recent spate of grim crime melodramas about marginalized people in bleak Middle America, “Into the Ashes” musters a grubby atmosphere but is otherwise a completely routine revenge tale, not unlike many that have come before.
In an economically depressed area of Alabama, good ol’ boy Nick (Luke Grimes) ekes out a modest existence working in a factory, but e does have a happy marriage with Tara (Marguerite Moreau), even though her father Frank (Robert Taylor), a local cop, still doesn’t approve of him. His suspicions aren’t groundless: Nick’s a former crook who once betrayed his buddies in crime and absconded with some of their loot.
His past catches up with him when his former boss Sloan (Frank Grillo) gets out of prison and comes looking for him, Revealed as a nasty sociopath when he knifes one source for information about his prey, he finds Nick and Tara’s place while Nick is out hunting with his buddy Sal (James Badge Dale). By the time Nick gets home, Sloan has killed Tara and intends to do the same with Nick, but our anti-hero only emerges seriously injured and thirsting to avenge his wife.
The rest of the tale finds the tables turned as a recovered Nick, aided by Sal, goes after Sloan and his crew. Meanwhile the brooding Frank ponders where justice lies, and eventually tries to balance the punishment his daughter’s killers deserve with his adherence to law.
Writer-director Aaron Harvey tries to give this thin story some heft by adding a few biblical overtones, and in a few rare instances he comes up with dialogue that’s better than pedestrian. (Grillo, who’s an old hand at menace, has a nice little digression involving ice cream and pie as he’s about to off Nick.)
For the most part, however, “Into the Ashes” is rather a slog, leadenly paced and, apart from lip-smacking Grillo, blandly acted. Production designer Mark Bankins and cinematographer John W. Rutland give it a desolate look, but the editing by Richard Byard merely exacerbates the sense of lethargy in Harvey’s helming. There’s also a rather obnoxious score by James Curd, in which what sound like repeated bursts from a foghorn blare out, apparently to suggest an inexorable march toward the obligatory doom-laden finale.
The picture begins with a bonfire, but overall the title is appropriate, since it generates little heat or light.