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With more brains to munch on than your run-of-the-mill horror flick, Ravenous (Les affames) follows a band of survivors joining forces in the Quebec countryside to escape a deadly zombie invasion. Flavored with surreal set-pieces, cleverly staged killings and a dark brand of humor, the latest feature from writer-director Robin Aubert has enough quirks to bust out of Canada into international markets.
The rules here may be the same — zombies have taken over the land, can infect you with a bite and are attracted to sound or movement — but Aubert does things a little differently this time. Sure, his script is yet another tale of several strangers teaming to fight the flesh-eaters, but the director favors a more eclectic approach that’s equal parts George Romero, Robert Bresson and Monty Python.
Following different characters who eventually unite by the second act and who are led by the sci-fi nerd turned zombie slayer, Bonin (Grondin), the movie stars off with a series of vignettes that range from the incredibly violent — lots of hacking away at body parts here — to the deadpan funny, including a running gag that ends in hilariously bloody fashion later on. Yet despite all the jokes, Ravenous is also somber and contemplative, with an eerie ambiance that’s interrupted by sudden spats of gore.
As he drives his pickup through hostile territory, Bonin crosses paths with a range of people, including Tania (Monia Chokri of Heartbeats), a snarky hipster who becomes his partner-in-crime; Celine (Brigitte Poupart), a badass mama who knows how to swing an ax; Real (Luc Proulx), a traumatized farmer lost in the woods; and the orphaned little Zoe (Charlotte St-Martin), who sticks around with the elders in search of a way out.
The group has a pleasant camaraderie that’s peppered with moments of humor, even if they know that their odds of survival are minimal. Eventually they all wind up on an isolated farmstead that belongs to Bonin’s mom (Micheline Lanctot), and with the monsters close by things soon go from dire to deadly, leaving little room for escape.
Before that happens, Aubert inserts a few surreal moments amid the creepy action, including a bizarre walking-dead ritual that involves stacking old toys and furniture into huge pieces of Anish Kapoor-style land art. These zombies may be gut-munching freaks, but they also have a good shot at participating in the next Venice Biennale.
Skillfully filmed by DP Steeve Desrosiers, with one impressive attack sequence set in the pre-dawn hours, Ravenous makes for an intriguing mix of the high and low, of the artsy and the bloody, even if its somewhat laconic pacing renders it less of a nail-biter than it could be. But Aubert’s attempts to think outside the box — or at least outside the gory confines of most horror movies — ultimately prove rewarding.
Production company: La Maison de Prod
Cast: Marc-André Grondin, Monia Bokri, Micheline Lanctot, Brigitte Poupart, Charlotte St-Martin
Director-screenwriter: Robin Aubert
Producer: Stephanie Morisette
Director of photography: Steeve Desrosiers
Production designer: Andre-Line Beauparlant
Editors: Robin Aubert, Francis Coultier
Composer: Pierre-Philippe Cote
Casting director: Lucie Lachapelle
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema)
Sales: Alma Cinema
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