Hoo boy was I hoping for something better out of this. I’ll start by saying it has some gorgeous shots throughout, and the performances are largely ok. They don’t make up for the general dragginess the movie has, nor it’s lack believable character behavior.
I managed to get through the whole movie not caring about any of the characters or fully understanding some of their relationships to one another. I don’t have a short attention span, but paying rapt attention here didn’t pay off. There’s a few instances that lead me to believe it was shooting for some kind of social commentary, but I one hundy did not care. Characters interact and move scene to scene, but it feels like there’s no momentum behind any of it.
This is also the first instance I’ve seen of a Chekhov’s Accordion.
Ravenous (Les Affamés)
Director: Robin Aubert
Rated: Not Rated
Release Date: March 2, 2018
Ravenous starts out in rural Quebec, in the midst of a fairly recent zombie apocalypse scenario. Houses seem empty but not particularly damaged. It’s not the usual plumes of smoke, boarded up windows, and bombed out cars.
People are still trying to sort out their places in this new world. Instead of cowering in fear, they’re all kind of just resigned to their fates and going about the business of surviving and occasionally shotgun-blasting one of their former neighbors in the face.
The zombies themselves are interesting because they don’t actually look like zombies. They’re definitely behaving strangely, but for the most part they look like regular people who desperately need a nap and a shower. Bravo to whoever made that decision, since it’s super low-budget and still effective. It’s hard to tell if someone’s a zombie just by looking at them, which is unfortunately something the movie doesn’t leverage often. The zombies more or less stand around unless they hear something worth eating, at which point they 28-Days-Later run screaming at their target. They also seem capable of teleportation, as Ravenous relies way too heavily on zombies suddenly appearing for the sake of jump scares. The number of times the camera pans away, only to pan back and OH SHIT A ZOMBIE is excessive.
The movie doesn’t feel like it truly has a main character, but we’re with a guy named Bonin for most of the film. He’s a part of some kind of zombie hunting group that goes around shooting zombies and presumably saving non-zombified people, but it’s not super well fleshed out, which is kind of the vibe the whole movie has.
Things go south for Bonin’s hunting group, and he flees with Tania, a possible zombie bite victim that he’s not sure he can trust. Tania makes a point to run back to grab her red accordion, and they flee in…I presume an intentional direction, but the rest of the movie is a series of running between locations and picking up randos along the way.
They eventually end up at what I…think is his dead hunting partner’s adoptive mothers’ place (that’s mothers plural, LGBT representation what what), with a weird little girl they found earlier in tow. The characters are quickly pushed out of the home by an encroaching zombie horde, and like an ultra-condensed version of The Walking Dead, characters are gradually picked off one by one for the remainder of the movie as they run/drive between set pieces.
Except unlike TWD, we’ve had essentially no time to get to know these characters, and the time we did have was mostly them staring contemplatively or walking slowly through houses or running away from zombies. Every time someone died I was like ‘Oh no…that one…’ There is some time spent giving a few of the characters some minor background details, but I’d forgotten all of them by the time the movie was over. I get that they’re all everyday people and this is what zombie survival would be like for them, but they just never clicked for me.
A few times we see zombies inexplicably creating towers out of garbage or chairs. The garbage tower almost seems like it’s some kind of ritual object for them, which would have been interesting if it was explored further. I think it was meant to show they still have a flicker of human behavior left, but other zombie movies (eg. The Girl with All the Gifts) have already more thoroughly explored that idea.
The chair tower makes no sense and took me out of the movie in a huge way. It’s easily over a hundred feet tall, and unless the nearby zombies consist solely of circus acrobats, it’s laughable to think that shambling, near braindead people were capable of making it.
We also occasionally encounter a character named Demers, who pops out of nowhere to scare Bonin and Tania. He’s clean-shaven and in military garb, and jokes around with them, and they’re essentially like DAMMIT DEMERS, and it comes off as…jokey? Bonin says ‘he thinks he’s back from a mission he never went on’. So I guess he has some kind of brain damage or is delusional, but has somehow survived the now weeks-old zombie apocalypse unscathed. He even mentions that he ran into someone they knew and she tried to bite him, but doesn’t explain further. I have no idea what this character is doing in the movie despite providing both bad jump scares and extremely-out-of-place comic relief.
EXCEPT he that got me thinking that all characters in this movie are supposed to be archetypes of various kinds, and that he’s maybe a neglected veteran or mental patient? It’s mentioned that the nearby cities have barricaded themselves in, so the zombies have spread back out into the rural areas in search of food, leading me to think that they’re all meant to represent people often forgotten or neglected by society (farmers, nerds, LGBTQ people, the elderly, children, poor people).
But it doesn’t matter because there’s too many characters with too little personality between them, and none of their deaths felt significant. The action scenes aren’t interesting, and the few that actually build some decent momentum shoot themselves in the foot by the end. One otherwise decent fight scene switches to low-budget mode, showing a character clearly alone, swinging a weapon wildly, while it quickly cuts to shots of legs and arms being cut off. It ends in an absurd Kill Bill level geyser of blood amidst a circle of zombie arms reaching towards the sky. It was comical and student art film at the same time. Most non-action scenes are paced in a way that’s meant to be contemplative, but every single one lingered just a bit too long.
Oh, and the accordion. Good lord. Tania treats it like a sacred object, and it’s featured heavily – she’s shown cleaning it, it’s worn on her back for most of the film, and its metallic red color is sometimes the only non-washed-out looking color in any scene. I thought for sure, that since the zombies are drawn to sound, she’d go out by playing some sad-ass Quebecian accordion classic to lure a horde towards her so others could escape. I thought it’d be some Titanic string quartet level shit. Instead there’s a scene towards the end where the weird little girl has one zombie follow her into a tunnel, so Tania plays three half-ass little honks on it and then skedaddles. It was so anticlimactic that I laughed out loud. THE WHOLE TIME I was holding out for some dramatic accordion-based finale that I thought was being telegraphed from the second that goddamn thing showed up, but NOPE.
Long story short, the weird little girl ends up with the accordion at the end. I think it’s supposed to symbolize that IT TAKES A VILLAGE and all the other characters were necessary for her to survive and that she carries that hope of survival into the future.
I think this was an attempt to make a Quebec-set Walking Dead clone, and while it’s definitely very French-Canadian feeling, and produces a handful of breathtaking shots, it kind of whiffs hard on pretty much everything it attempts.
Ravenous premieres March 2, 2018 on Netflix.