A troubled teenage girl’s life begins to unravel as she discovers the dark power that drove her mother to suicide has infected her older sister, driving her to do horrible and terrifying things.
Life can be hard when you are sixteen, crazy, and a dark power has your family in its grips. Unfortunately for Angela, the young heroine in co-writer/director Ross Wachsmann’s sci-fi thriller, Ascension (2018), thus is her life, as she battles a sinister alien force that has taken control of her sisters’ bodies for their evil master plan.
Ascension tells the story of Angela and her family 5 months after her mother has committed suicide. Still reeling from the suddenness of her death, the family is left to cope with their new life as just the 4 of them – workaholic father, Jason (Michael Traynor), grim and gothic eldest Becca (Christie Burke), middle child Angela (Ana Mulvoy Ten), and innocently adorable little sister, Chloe (Farrah Mackenzie). One night on an evening stroll, Becca finds herself possessed by an extraterrestrial force which causes strange character developments, such as: being cheerful, helping with cooking, teaching their homeschooling, and performing ritualistic practices on little sis Chloe. Possessed Becca hides her intentions under the guise of a game, having Chloe gleefully mantra-ing I want to be queen, and force-feeding her some alien brew she calls medicine that in actuality is designed to impregnate the six-year-old girl, unbeknownst to the family.
All this peculiar behavior immediately draws the attention of Angela, who is somehow the only one who raises an eyebrow, however, because of her history of mental episodes, her calls of alarm go unnoticed. The only one who believes her is a friend from her old high school, Ethan (August Roads), who has heard about other recent and seemingly miraculous impregnations of six-year-old girls around the world. He helps Angela connect the dots through news articles, videos, and Becca’s own maniacal actions – there is definitely an alien plot afoot. Can Angela save her sister from the sinister machinations of this extraterrestrial force?
So there was a lot to unpack here, as mentioned there was mental illness, suicide, child pregnancy, aliens, and all kinds of other dynamics addressed within this relatively short sci-fi thriller. It is tiny in budget and length however it is mighty in narrative, and I was pleasantly surprised at the value given to horror in this sci-fi film and the quality of acting put forth from even the throwaway, expositional, comic relief character, Ethan. Though I myself didn’t scream, there was a lot of blood-curdling screams that I ended up enjoying as it reminded me of slasher films. For the number of times that these scream queens end a scene by saying “Just leave me alone, okay” this movie is also not angst-y.
I for one enjoyed the special effects and makeup; you never see the aliens but their presence is portrayed in stylish CGI effects. Furthermore, well-done skin suites are always nice to see and there was quite a lot of gore, more than I would expect from a sci-fi venture. I noticed the lighting was soft and that haziness effect from it gave the movie a dreamlike quality, expounding on the otherworldliness aspects of Ascension. It was a slow build to a very climatic finale, and god knows I love a weird ending, reminded me of my favorite movie of 2010 Enter the Void. It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised when an indie film is fully realized to its potential and this one turned out better than expected.
All in all, I thought this movie was very good. The pacing was wonderful, I have no complaints on the acting, and each choice on lighting, effects, editing, etc. ultimately put forth a well-balanced sci-fi vs. horror feature. If you are a fan of either genre of film, you should be pleasantly surprised by Ross Wachsman’s 2018 indie, sci-fi thriller Ascension.
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