Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Revenant - review

2009 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

There are many myths of animated corpses terrorising the living. Scandinavia has the Draugr, undead liches guarding treasure and Western Europe, especially Medieval Britain has tales of the Revenant; personal tales of loved ones rising from the grave to spread disease and bring terror to the living. The traditional western zombie originates from Haitian origins where they were often under the control of a master and were portrayed as brainless automatons. Later Romero replaced the puppet master with primal instincts and drives but the premise that the personality and soul of the deceased was gone remained. Revenants are different. They're still reanimated dead with some new quite nefarious desires but they're still the person they used to be. They conscious, autonomous, caring and have the same whims and desires as before; it's just they now require a constant supply of fresh human blood to stop themselves decomposing.

The Revenant written and directed by D. Kerry Prior takes the idea of these revenants for a quirky spin. On patrol in Iraq, Second Lieutenant Bart Gregory (David Anders) is killed after an ambush where he disobeys protocol and stops his truck believing he's run over a child. Finding himself awake and very much alive in his coffin he breaks out and turns to the only person he feels he can trust, his best friend Joey Leubner (Chris Wylde). Coming to terms with his new un-life and not sure whether Bart is a zombie or a vampire Joey concludes that he's actually a revenant.

After Bart and Joey disturb an armed robbery of a local drug store killing the assailant, Bart takes the opportunity to satiate his hunger for blood and  the pair not only become over-night vigilante heroes but they find moral justification for what they need to do and the pair embark on a new life.

The Revenant is a brooding dark comedy with plenty of gore but more importantly it's a buddy film. Two quite different characters Joey and Bart trade humour, blows and blood as they try to make sense and take control of their new found situation. Soon in, Joey willingly joins his buddy as a revenant after a vigilante attack goes wrong and this sees their attacks, reputation and their confidence escalate. After Bart's ex-girlfriend, Janet (Louise Griffiths), discovers he is still alive and what he is, from her friend Mathilda (Jacy King), she offers her blood in return for being let back in to his life. Things go wrong and Bart accidently kills her. The reality of the situation kicks in, Janet's head is cut off before she becomes one of them, Bart and Joey fall out and things rapidly decline to a bleak unforgiving ending for all involved.

Throughout The Revenant there are constant reference to both zombies and vampires and it's hard to pin down exactly what they are. Unlike zombies they aren't killed with massive trauma to the brain. They can be killed if their head is cut off before they reanimate but after their heads survive. They require a constant source of fresh human blood for sustenance but can survive a stake to the heart and can make their way in the day even if they prefer to sleep in the dark. Ever since Matheson's I Am Legend there's always been a bit of ambiguity and in truth revenants are really just another branch of the same dark story. They are what they are and the film works in portraying these undead creatures in a plausible way staying true to their unique origins. It's probably best not to try and shoe horn this film into either category. It's both a zombie film a vampire one and yet it's neither.

Whilst there are many comedic moments the film doesn't go out of its way to be funny. Laughter is born from the absurdity of many of the situation the friends find themselves in and the constant banter between them. Prior paints a moody eerie atmosphere employing a monochromatic filter, reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow to proceedings and this subdues the film helping to make it a close and personal experience. The special effects are subdued and realistic, and Prior maintains this stylised look and feel through to the end which is remarkable given some of extremely graphic and disturbing scenes later in the film.

The Revenant gathered itself quite the cult following on release and picked up many awards for its bleak and different spin across multiple genres. It certainly throws something new into the mix and for the most part works. Andres and Wylde have great onscreen chemistry and Prior captures all the facets of what makes a great buddy relationship tick. The story is interesting and coherent though I found the final subway scenes a little out of place and jarring when contrasted with the personal feel of the rest of the film; but it's a small nitpick. A great addition to any zombie/vampire/revenant collection, 7/10.


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