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Movies about friend and family reunions don’t get any more blatantly artificial than Russell Friedenberg and Randy Redroad’s Chekhovian, Big Chill-style comedy/drama. Featuring unlikeable characters, preposterously contrived plotting, ham-fisted dialogue and strained attempts at poeticism, Among Ravens is a misfire on every level.
Set over a July 4th weekend at a lake house in Idaho—the gorgeously scenic locations, lovingly photographed by Darren Genet, are the film’s sole saving grace—the story concerns a gathering hosted by wealthy couple Ellis (Josh Leonard) and Wendy (Amy Smart). Among the guests are Wendy’s ex-husband Saul (Friedenberg), a best-selling novelist; his elegant, gallery owner wife Emma (Victoria Smurfit); Wendy’s friend Hal (Calum Grant), a stoner life coach, and his sexy flower child girlfriend Saturn (Castille Landon). Also on hand are Chad (Will McCormack), a seemingly autistic, bird-loving photographer whose childlike innocence is inevitably going to have a life-changing effect on those around him, and Wendy’s ten-year-old daughter Joey (Johnny Sequoia of NBC’s Believe), who narrates the proceedings with the sort of precocious insight only to be found in children in bad movies.
Secrets and hidden tensions immediately begin rising to the surface. Ellis and Wendy’s marriage is on the skids. The actual author of Saul’s book is Will (Christian Campbell), his alcoholic ghost writer, who is experiencing writer’s block after giving up drinking and who’s having an affair with Emma. The sex-crazed Saturn offers herself to the flustered Ellis. And the innocent-looking Chad turns out to be packing a gun.
Featuring frequent close-up of the titular birds apparently meant as an allegorical symbol, the film features one nasty encounter after another, with the characters shouting at each other and engaging in the sort of histrionics that would normally sending any sane person heading for the hills. The sole element of sweetness is delivered in the form of the close friendship that develops between Joey and Chad, bearing echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird.
The melodramatic interpersonal dynamics are occasionally interrupted by strained attempts at humor, such as Ellis being attacked by a swarm of bees while wearing a floral shirt, and by such truly bizarre scenes as Saturn and Chad’s mutual masturbation session openly conducted in the front yard.
By the time Chad and Joey are seen happily dancing during a holiday parade, the viewers will have long since thrown up their hands at the tonally confused proceedings. The performers gamely attempt to bring life to their stereotypical characters, but such incongruous moments as when the emotionally neglected Wendy sexily dances before Chad’s video camera indicates the impossibility of the task.
Production: Iron Circle Pictures
Cast: Johnny Sequoyah, Amy Smart, Victoria Smurfit, Joshua Leonard, Natalie Imbruglia, Christian Campbell, Will McCormack, Russell Friedenbeg, Castille Landon, Calum Grant
Directors: Randy Redroad, Russell Friedenberg
Screenwriter: Russell Friedenberg
Producers: Heather Rae, Teddy Grennan, Dori Sperko
Executive producers: Jerri Moore, Jeff Steen
Director of photography: Darren Genet
Editors: Randy Redroad, Terilyn A. Shropshire
Production designer: Debbie DeVilla
Costume designer: Marie Boller
Composer: Fall on Your Sword
No rating, 103 min.
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Walt Disney Animation Studios