Director: Robin Aubert
Writer: Robin Aubert
Producer: Stephanie Morissette
Stars: Marc-Andre Grondin, Monia Chokri, Micheline Lanctot, Marie-Ginette Guay, Brigitte Poupart, Charlotte St-Martin, Edouard Tremblay-Grenier, Luc Proulx
In the wake of a zombie outbreak that ravages rural Quebec, several strangers band together in their struggle to survive.
I could try describing “Les affames,” which sometimes does and sometimes does not have “The” in front of its English translation “Ravenous,” with a typical story summary. Except writer/director Robin Aubert doesn’t build his movie from plot points. “Ravenous” defines itself with characters. The premise of a zombie plague having devastated quiet Quebec countryside provides a backdrop. Portraits of people struggling to survive in that setting make up the heart of the movie. Thus, any discussion of “Ravenous” must start and end with the individuals following one of the film’s three threads.
Bonin, formerly a science nerd and now a huntsman hardened by harsh realities, leads Tania, who swears her bite wound came from a dog, and Zoe, a girl found orphaned on a farm, down a hopeful road toward refuge. Bonin’s mother Therese waits patiently on a farm with her friend Pauline and resilient businesswoman Celine, whom the elderly duo took in after catching her attempting to pilfer gasoline. Forced to murder his own mother, young Ti-Cul set off into the forest alone, eventually partnering with Real, an injured man prone to freezing at the thought of the fate that befell his family.
A few other faces dot the landscape, though they don’t attach themselves to anyone for long. Bonin’s buds Vezina and Paco meet the same end, although one passes peacefully while the other paints a pickup truck with his brains. Military man Demers takes his proclivity for pranks too far, resulting in a Bill Murray moment that provides a simultaneous shock and snicker. Finally, don’t dismiss the racecar driver seen in the prologue before he has his chance to reappear.
The three threads intertwine after each makes occasional detours along the way. It’s hard to say that the eight main survivors find themselves in a story however. It’s more that various things happen to them, such as encountering entranced zombie hordes assembled around strange furniture towers, or momentarily musing about pre-plague life by confessing regretful actions and inactions.
What’s refreshing about the film’s somber journey is how its illustration of post-apocalyptic despair never reaches “The Walking Dead” levels of hopeless nihilism. Bleakness blankets “Ravenous.” Yet its survivors are eager to assist strangers and anxious to repair a semblance of inclusive community. When a new character enters the frame, the thought is what value will this person add to the group dynamic, not how will s/he kill, rape, or thieve his/her way to selfishly material gains.
I’m a broken record when it comes to trumpeting reminders that the best zombie films are those where the creatures are a threat whose distinction is unimportant. That threat merely means to motivate human behavior in atypical ways to show how a collapsed society chooses to rebuild. “Ravenous” knows this well. Its focus falls firmly on quietly exploring who these people have to be now compared to who they once were.
To that end, don’t expect to see many monstrous makeups since these zombies don’t have the decayed flesh or missing limbs of a familiar undead ghoul. In fact, it can be argued if “zombie” is technically an accurate term for the chaotic yet controlled infected whose faces aren’t all that different from a regular human. The low-key contemplativeness of “Ravenous” aims for more intimate appeal along the lines of “Here Alone” (review here) or “The Battery” (review here) than the straighter horror carnage of Lucio Fulci or the living dead.
You can still expect to see some spectacularly gruesome practical effects, particularly anytime gunfire shatters a skull. Gore isn’t close to being at the forefront of the film. But when it does feature, bloody bits help highlight the painful cruelty at stake for those who disregard preemptive caution.
“Ravenous” can be easily appreciated for its measured acting across the entire roster, mature emotional matter, and crisply cinematic presentation. It’s more challenging to ascertain what the film contributes to a crowded subgenre of dramatic thriller entertainment overall.
Even though “Ravenous” has an unconventionally sober approach to plague fiction, its ideas aren’t entirely unique. See the two movies mentioned above for two examples. The film therefore becomes part of a small subsection separated from typical trappings associated with zombie cinema. However, it is moderately derivative within that grouping of outliers, neutralizing a significant portion of its ability to plant a flag of dominant individuality.
Even for audience members who find this irrelevant, because they may not have the benchmarks for redundancy to be noticeable, “Ravenous” erects other obstacles to engagement. The majority of thematic content remains so insularly interpersonal that reduced scope encounters difficulty remaining satisfying. A deliberately delayed tempo further erodes the pure entertainment quotient. While the character study echoes undeniable authenticity, there’s a question regarding what that’s worth in service of a story that takes an ambiguous shape. This leaves conflicted viewers with the takeaway that despite an intelligently conceived texture, “Ravenous” may not have the narrative substance to match.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 55