The latest film from The October People arrives on VOD on April 3rd, the indie horror title Ayla, a supernatural horror flick about a man, Elton (Nicholas Wilder), who is haunted by the death of his 4-year-old sister earlier and brings her back to life 30 years later with dire consequences.
The film is written and directed by Elias, known for his micro-budgeted favorite Gut, and writer of 2015's Dark. While his sister's death was hard for the entire family, Elton has never really moved on from the intense psychological trauma her death caused. Despite having reached a point of being in a healthy, loving relationship with Alex (Sarah Schoofs) and having the support of his relentlessly loyal mother (genre icon Dee Wallace) and younger brother (D'Angelo Midili), Elton has only occasionally seemed to have moved on with his life but mostly has been caught in a seemingly unstoppable cycle of psychosis and self-injurious behaviors.
Wilder makes for a compelling figure as Elton, an intensely troubled young man caught up in the throes of complicated loss and grief and creating a world for himself from which he may not be able to survive. Rooting the revival of a now adult sister in the Tibetan concept of tulpa, a notion that a person or object can be can be created through the powers of the mind/spirit. While this supernatural element is front and center in Ayla, the film resonated more as a psychological horror than a supernatural one.
That said, it largely depends on where you believe all of this is really coming from. Ya know?
Ayla is certainly graphic in spots, though its horror is more grounded within intense psychological desperation and fear than it is the kind of horror that might more please the gorehounds. While I can't quite say that Elton's character development is strong, Elias is clearly committed to Elton as a fully fleshed out character whose lack of complexity is actually part of that development. The creation of Tristan Risk's Ayla is rather jarring, the film's incestuous undertones undeniable and perhaps intensified by Elton's constant social awkwardness and self-loathing. It was a bold choice to go this route, largely effectively, and Tristan Risk nicely nuances those uncomfortable layers and sort of taunts us with them.
The film's ensemble cast is strong across the board. Nicholas Wilder, who also co-starred in Gut, gives Elton a vulnerable creepiness that leaves you constantly wondering where all this is going. Sarah Schoofs adds an air of uneasy normalcy as Alex, while Dee Wallace, while not being given a whole lot to do, manages turn in a memorable performance anyway. D'Angelo Midili is also strong, while dual appearances by horror icon Bill Oberst Jr. are fun to see and Andrew Sensenig is always a welcome presence.
D.P. Jeremy Berg's lensing is atmospheric, intensely intimate and at times unnerving, while Chad Bernhard's original score does a nice, slow build along with the film's tension.
Ayla isn't quite a film for everyone, the film's sexual tension between Elton and his sister being enough to scare off those who avoid taboo subjects, though for those who have the patience to travel the entire journey it's a rewarding film with a story and imagery that will likely linger in your psyche' long after the closing credits have rolled.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic