Ravenous is one of one of those rarest of rare Netflix gems — a good zombie movie. Yet the things that make it stand out are also the things that show how far it falls short of greatness.
This French Canadian film that won “Best Canadian Film” at the Toronto International Film Festival starts off with a bang, wasting no time throwing you into the chaos of the world following a zombie outbreak of some sort. The movie never calls them zombies, but we’ll go with the language most people would use to describe them.
And we are thrown right in, medias res, with zero background with the (mostly) random people we’re following. All we know is that they’re all trying to survive.
It’s a small movie focused tightly on a few characters much like Signs was a small alien invasion movie showing the experiences of a family.
But being thrown in with these people, we never get a look at what caused the outbreak, nor are we following anybody’s storyline who might cure it. These are all just random people caught up in it.
And I like small movies like that. They’re less concerned with popcorn action thrills of a Big Summer Blockbuster as they are examining how characters respond to the shit hitting the fan.
In other words, my kind of story.
The acting performances and direction were great. Miles ahead of most movies made with such a low budget. I believe it was made for around $3.5 million.
The Ravenous manages to evoke feelings of loss, friendship, sacrifice, and love through limited dialogue and many wordless exchanges which spoke volumes more than dialogue could.
Despite being low-budget, it never feels low rent.
You never feel the confines of the budget as the movie looks beautiful and creates an eerie sense of dread as it threads together different narratives.
It feels like an old-fashioned movie and not reliant on over-the-top special effects or CGI to show the ever-present threat.
Which brings us to the zombies.
These are the kinds of zombies that scare the crap out of me!
They’re not the slow, plodding, shambling brainless things from The Walking Dead.
No, these are more like the rabid, fast-moving, predatory 28 Days Later variety of zombies.
And a big guy like me wouldn’t get too far running in this apocalypse!
And unlike those slow zombies that are seen more as a nuisance to get around, these things are hyper vigilant, and you need to watch your ass!
You can feel the tension as characters sneak around trying not to make too much noise.
Once they make a sound, the zombies respond and start to scream, which alerts all nearby zombies.
And suddenly, they’ve got a problem!
And they need to run!
This is one of the few zombie movies where the tension is palpable, especially in the quiet moments.
And when we see the zombies display a sort of intelligence (I don’t want to spoil too much here), you are even more frightened of what’s going to happen next.
While there are some gory moments, they’re offset by the striking beauty of overhead shots of lush woodlands, low-hanging fog over wide open fields, and panoramas of buildings left behind. Also, odd monuments of furniture piled up in the middle of fields.
These monuments, along with something the zombies do early on in the movie (which I don’t want to spoil) gives you the sense that something is going on just beneath the surface of what our characters can understand, and it’s that mystery that propels this above the standard zombie flick.
It also belies one of the movies biggest shortcomings.
SOME OF THE WEAKNESSES
Despite all the accolades I’ve given the movie above, something happened which kept the movie from being the movie it could have been.
For all the sense of mystery, the movie never explores that mystery or utilizes it in any meaningful way.
I’m not saying that The Ravenous needed to spell everything out, or give us all the answers, but there should’ve been some sense of revelation. Even just a hint of something meaningful would’ve been a nice payoff and made the movie seem less random.
I’m not sure if it’s by design or by accident, but there’s very little payoff to be had here.
I understand that these characters might not be privy to the explanations, if any, given their circumstances. And that’s a defense I could appreciate.
However, there were other problems.
The characters being drawn together felt rather random. Basic storytelling conventions would’ve dictated the movie would actually do something with these connections, to give them some weight and meaning.
Despite this, there were some great subtle moments where we got to see backstory filled in, and it made me care about these characters.
Which brings me to my biggest issue with the movie.
(MINOR BUT NON-SPECIFIC SPOILERS AHEAD)
A lot of characters die.
And after spending so much time with them, the manner in which they die isn’t always as impactful as it should’ve been. Some deaths were shown in excruciating detail while others were offscreen. And all but one or two of them had any emotional weight or resonance to make their story feel complete.
It all felt so random. Like the writers threw a dart at a spinning wheel of names to decide whom to kill next.
And it fails to deliver any significance with most of the deaths.
For example, there’s a running plot device (or comedic gag) with a man who continues to pop up and scare a couple of the main characters. It’s funny and you can sense that there might be a cool payoff, especially if the movie used this to scare us later. It might have been an obvious story choice, but I think it would’ve worked better with the way they wasted the build-up with what felt like a missed punchline to a bad joke.
So much of the movie feels (here comes that word again) random.
And because of this, along with the dour ending, The Ravenous left me feeling a bit empty. The time spent with this people was meaningless at the end of the day.
And maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s some intellectual existential point director and writer Robin Aubert was going for that went over my head or was lost in translation (or the editing process).
I’ll admit that sometimes I don’t appreciate a movie until after a second or third watching. Much in the way that one of my favorite movies of all time, The Fountain, has people that don’t appreciate it.
So maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ll get it on a repeat viewing?
But mostly I’m disappointed because I loved the first three fourths of the movie so much.
REALLY LOVED IT.
So when it fell apart in the final act, I was left disappointed, thinking more of what the movie could have been than what it was.
I won’t give away the ending, but it ties into the opening, but not in a way that really made me care.
There’s also a post-credit scene which might be the worst post-credit scene in any movie I’ve ever seen. Where the movie had a chance to really hint at the underlying mystery, it almost serves as a big trolling toward anyone looking for answers.
I would LOVE to talk about the post-credits scene, just to bitch about it at length. Really, it is that out there! But that would rob you of seeing it for yourself and drawing your own conclusion.
I’m pretty divided on Ravenous. It feels like there was a really good movie in here somewhere. But it got lost in the chaos.
Despite this, there’s enough good elements, and the directing, acting, (most of) the writing, and characters are done well, that I think it’s worth spending time in this world if you adjust your expectations accordingly.
Despite my annoyances with some elements of the movie, I would’ve liked more. In fact, I would’ve preferred The Ravenous as a TV show, where it might have had time to stretch its wings and find the story it meant to tell.
While I was tempted to give it a six, I can’t discount what an incredibly job that Aubert did with the first three fourths of the movie. And I want to judge the movie for what it is, rather than what I wanted it to be. Aubert is clearly a talented director and writer, and I look forward to seeing what he does next … even if it’s a return to the world of Ravenous.