August 18, 2009

THE REVENANT (Movie Review)


The Revenant (2009)

Director: Kerry Prior

4.5/ 5 zedheads

It played Cinevegas and won Audience Choice for Best Film. Then, on August 16th, The Revenant, Kerry Prior's independently produced dark comedy, had its INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE at a Toronto After Dark screening in the Bloor Cinema. I was lucky enough to be there for this screening, and I only have one thing to say about The Revenant.


I'm not usually one easily blown away by movies, nor am I one to usually resort to one word reviews. Then again, it's not every day that something so thoroughly funny, shocking, odd, fresh, unique and lovable as The Revenant comes along in the zombie / undead film genre. Kerry Prior (best known best for his special effects work on Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep) has written, directed, and produced The Revenant on an independent budget, yet in a genre that can spawn a lot of boring independent knock-offs, The Revenant is one of the best dark horror comedies I have ever seen. If this movie does not become an instant classic in the genre, there is no justice in the universe. The Revenant is the Re-Animator of this decade!

The Revenant begins with the body of a dead American soldier named Bart (David Anders). Bart was killed in Iraq and sent home to be buried. His girlfriend Janet (Louise Griffiths) is in mourning. Bart surprises everyone, however, when he returns to life as a revenant! Looking like a corpse and rotting before his very eyes, Bart goes to his best friend Joey (a lovable scumbag played in a breakout performance by Chris Wylde). Together, they learn that Bart needs human blood to survive, and the two embark on a series of violent misadventures that end in the killing of the city's criminals and lowlifes.

In other hands, this setup has failure written all over it. It needs to walk a fine line between the outrageous and the plausible. Amazingly, Kerry manages to concoct the perfect blend of dark and ridiculous humor, terrifying graphic violence and raucous splatter, sincere drama and over-the-top theatrics, and an outlandish supernatural premise with a humble, personal story of a friendship. If you think the premise of the movie is wild, just wait until you see the places the plot takes you. The whole thing is topped off by some amazing visual and makeup effects and set designs that ground the film's horror elements in a world of detailed plausibility.

Perhaps the biggest success of the film is the casting of the two lead actors. Wylde and Anders carry the film. They are its centre. Considering that we never see Joey with Bart when Bart was alive, the whole movie is made or broken in their first on-screen meeting shortly after Bart crawls out of his grave when Joey meets his departed friend. Both actors manage to make their characters instantly likable and feel like natural friends, which is a testament to their amazing comedic chemistry. During the Q and A after the film, Kerry Prior said Anders and Wylde "fell in love" during the shoot; that is; they became instant friends who often did not even require rehearsals because they were consistently funny. This chemistry is truly palpable on the screen and helps keep the audience grounded for the rest of a film that will test the limits of dark comedy. For example, there is an incredible talking severed head scene that rivals the one in Reanimator for achievements in special effects and shock-value humour.

Not everything is perfect in The Revenant, however. Some scenes do run a bit too long, and the music and ambient sound were overbearing and distorted at times in the copy of the film I saw at the Bloor Theatre. There are also several obvious green-screen produced scenes in which the digital compositing looks incredibly superficial and fake. I hope these elements are fixed in the final release of the film, because they may not ruin the movie but they slightly tarnish the majority of the film's polished and better scene-stealing special effects.

If it seems I'm being vague about this movie's plot and that I'm struggling to describe the tone of this film, that is because I am. This could be my failure as a writer, but I prefer to attribute it to the strengths of Prior's film. First, I live in fear of spoiling any of the plot since every moment of this film is enjoyable in its unexpectedness. There are also several points in the film that feel like natural ending points, but the movie carries on. Far from being tiring (as in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King), these continuations expand on the themes of the film and, oddly enough given the movie's outlandish narrative, ground the events in the real world. It would kill me if I spoiled this film for anyone before it gets a much deserved wide-release. Second, this movie feels so novel to me that I can't think of any meaningful comparisons that do it justice. I could compare it superficially to Tarantino's films, but not even this does the film's unique blend of elements justice. It's just a movie you have to see for yourself.

Unfortunately, you can't go out to the theatre or video store and get it just yet. The film is still making the festival circuit (next stop: Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas from September 24-October 1), but Prior has mentioned he's been approached by several groups interested in distributing the film.

I wish Prior and his team the best of luck. This is a movie I desperately want to see again and put in my personal DVD collection. It technically may not be a zombie film, but it has many of the elements of one and is by far better than a lot of straight zombie movies I've seen.

For a movie about a rotting corpse that sucks the life from its victims, The Revenant has managed to inject some much-needed life into the undead film genre and buddy-comedy subgenre

Keep an eye out for this movie. By all measures, it is bound to be a stand-out film.

Visit the film's official website: