Saturday, September 22, 2012

Movie Review: "The Revenant" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2012
Director: Kerry Prior
Written By: Kerry Prior
Actors: David Anders, Chris Wylde, Annie Abbott
Rated: R
Run Time: 110 min

"The Revenant" has technically been around for quite some time now, first appearing in American film festivals back in 2009. But it wasn't until recently (last month, actually), that the film finally got an American DVD and VOD release. Feelings have been mixed on this intriguing little independent horror/comedy, but for my money, this nearly has all the right pieces to become a very popular cult classic.

The movie centers around a fallen soldier who somehow finds he has joined the ranks of the living dead. Bart Gregory (David Anders) has just recently been laid to rest, but now all the sudden finds himself wandering around in the middle of the night. The only person Bart can turn to for answers is his best friend Joey (Chris Wylde), and before long the two pals realize that blood is the only thing that can keep Bart from decomposing. They stumble through various plans to try and acquire what is needed, but eventually, it's determined that they must kill for the sustenance. Convinced that no one will miss the drug dealers and killers who have transformed Los Angeles into a swirling cesspool of crime and vice, the two friends decide to collect from them the precious blood needed to keep Bart "alive".

Before I can even begin, it's hard for me to discuss this film without first noting the strong inspiration the film must have received from "Return of the Living Dead". Similar in tone, look, progression, themes, and even in-line with its anti-war sentiments, the film doesn't feel like a rip-off, but does feel very much like a strong homage to the great 1985 horror/comedy classic. If you've seen and enjoyed that film (one of my favorite zombie movies of all-time), then this will be right up your alley. I'm not sure if a film of this style can still become a cult hit today, or if films are produced as such larger rates that anything small can stand out as such anymore, but I think this is one of the better, more recent horror comedies I've seen.

Where the film excels is in its tones and comedic timing. It's not a laugh-out-loud film, but as is the case with most undead movies, tip-toeing that line of being too serious or too silly is a thin one. This one finds a nice ground to settle into and works it to the best of its ability. This is an independent film, and the production values aren't incredibly high, but that's okay here. I would have enjoyed some better lighting, especially, but but the acting is serviceable, with Anders and Wylde both actually providing solid performances, and convincing me of a true friendship there. The camera work featured a lot of very basic techniques, and struggled in a few areas to figure out how to layout different shots, but that wasn't much of a surprise coming from a first-time director in Kerry Prior. And for a first feature film, after the first act, the film settles in, with most camera work fairly unnoticeable, albeit at the expense of some creativity.

The makeup and gore department is another great aspect of this film, and one that really gave me much more than I was expecting. There's tons of blood in this one, and plenty of creative kills. The face makeup of Bart isn't flashy, but is very effective and very well-done. Various practical effects are used for severed body parts, squirming around, and it's the final act's face makeup of gangbanger Miguel that provides the wow moment that can help catapult this into cult favorite status. Both laughable and intricate, it really stands out as the highlight from the makeup department, which is already incredibly strong in the film.

Areas that the film fails are mostly in its pacing. Kerry Prior also wrote the script for the film, and while the elements alone have moments of greatness, trying to work them all into one feature created some issues. Where I noticed the most difficulty was in the transitions from scene to scene. It was clear that the director was unsure of how to smoothly move from one specific plot point to another. Many transition scenes felt uncomfortable, and getting a professional in to help tighten the whole picture up would have went a really long way. Unsure of what type of film it wants to be in the first act - or, maybe just more unsure how to get to its second - the film takes a good half hour to really settle in and get you moving in the right direction. This isn't uncommon for newer filmmakers, and especially for independent horror films, and in the broad scheme of things, I'm okay with the slow start. But for a movie lacking in a lot of the major technical departments, it might make it difficult for viewers who aren't as into the horror comedy genre as I am to get through and truly appreciate.

I suppose the film technically profiles as a vampire film more than a zombie film, but these self-aware characters do a good job of assume he must be a zombie before ultimately just agreeing that undead is the best label to put on it. Adding other elements like alive/undead relationships, buddy cop montages, and even a Groundhog Day-esque scene where Bart is doing everything he can think of to try and kill himself, adds for plenty of comedy and interest, but also makes for more issues with the pacing and focus of the film. I loved each of these elements very much though, and these scenes are what truly help set this movie apart from a lot of the other generic fluff out there.

I had a good time watching this, and while the humor isn't much stronger than that from "Return of the Living Dead", it has a good time with these characters and themes, and never takes itself too seriously. I'd love to see what this story could be with a bit better technical qualities, but that's the beauty of a cult classic - sometimes it's the bad lighting and the raw filmmaking that keeps the film above some standard Hollywood piece. It could use a fresh cut and would probably benefit from chopping out 15-20 minutes of fat, but it still finds its own ground to walk on and keeps its personality. In my opinion, this film rises above any of the horror comedies I've seen recently, and I think that anyone who is a fan of the genre should definitely check this one out. The story is a bit messy at times, but overall, it still feels original and inspired, and should provide something more to most horror fans out there looking for something a little different.

By the way, depending on your interest levels for this genre, try not to take too much stock in the below rating. That was my best attempts to try and remain positive for horror fans out there, but still not over-sell this to viewers maybe not so interested in such styles of film. I have no doubt that this can become a true cult classic, and down the road I could even see myself owning this movie, but there are a lot of technical aspects that are quite lacking with this feature, and I wanted to set expectations at a fair level.