Studio: Brainstorm Media
Director: Teddy Grennan
Writer: Teddy Grennan
Producer: Marsha Oglesby, Teddy Grennan
Stars: Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Robert Longstreet, Bruce Dern, Michael Weaver, Ross Partridge, Eric Nelsen, Josh Brady, Chris Pinkalla, Drake Shannon
A nature photographer becomes a target for torture when she stumbles upon a horrible scene in remote Virginian woods.
Nature photographer Harper Sykes got more than she bargained for while shooting in the deep woods of Virginia¡¯s Watchatoomy Valley. Instead of the rare bird she was after, Harper stumbled upon a clan of rural rednecks brutally torturing a corporate development scout who came there to survey the land.
Harper races back to town to report her awful discovery, but can¡¯t get help before the crew of country crazies tracks her down. Taking the place of the man she just saw murdered, Harper will need all the strength she can summon to fight back against her captors and escape a living nightmare she might never wake up from.
You might be thinking, do I really want to watch another film where homicidal hillbillies put a woman through the wringer, and she has to survive a series of harrowing scenarios while fleeing through trees? I hear you. Like zombies, ¡°found footage,¡± haunted houses, and so on, this subgenre¡¯s belly has been bloated by similar movie after similar movie. The belt buckle on forest-set survival/slashing setups is fixing to burst and blind horror fans in one eye from the force of its flight.
Yet while the basic bones of ¡°Ravage¡¯s¡± story encounter issues with originality, staging stays consistently creative. Beats link together in unexpectedly unusual ways so the movie ends up filling itself with surprises. Not narrative twists, but rather startling moments of intensity that are impossible to predict.
For instance, Harper¡¯s initial capture isn¡¯t a run-of-the-mill foot chase followed by a wrestling match and knock into unconsciousness. Instead, a tow truck suddenly hitches beneath her bumper and tears away at top speed with Harper still trapped inside her truck. When Harper later escapes her rope restraints, she doesn¡¯t tip over a chair or slowly saw the knots against something sharp. Hung upside-down on a hook, Harper swings between overhead beams like a Grayson Family acrobat and climbs her way free. Even though we usually know what¡¯s going to happen next, ¡°Ravage¡± makes a guessing game out of the how and the who to make sure the audience still feels tension. And if you somehow make it to the ending without feeling fingernails burrowing into palm flesh, wait until you feast your eyes on the final horror in store for Harper.
Stark shocks against a realistic backdrop give ¡°Ravage¡± a patina of ¡°Texas Chainsaw Massacre¡± grittiness, albeit with a less fantasized flavor. Camerawork also goes guerrilla with a cinema v¨¦rit¨¦ look reminiscent of the on-the-fly style employed by ¡°Friday Night Lights.¡± Unrehearsed handheld movements work well to accentuate action, although they¡¯re less successful in static scenes where the lens corners itself into out-of-focus angles obscured by blurry bric-a-brac in the foreground.
Third base to home plate proves to be the most problematic path for ¡°Ravage.¡± Lulls like Harper strangely stopping for a quiet intermission at Bruce Dern¡¯s house apply intermittent brakes to momentum. Swap in anyone under Dern¡¯s level and this scene would out itself as an easily excisable stalling tactic. Dern¡¯s uncanny ability to mold a common conversation into an intriguing interaction of course buoys the segment. The value of Bruce Dern being Bruce Dern aside, his appearance comes with a calm collectedness that¡¯s out of step with what comes before and what follows after.
With its industriousness supply running low, ¡°Ravage¡± revisits previous points that aren¡¯t as enthralling on the second run through. Harper gets tied up again, but this time she does find a sharp tool conveniently located within wrist¡¯s reach. Early on, Robert Longstreet plays his ringleading antagonist without any wide-eyed shtick or lip-licking villainy. His is a poised presentation of a sinister sociopath whose rage seems tempered by flashes of reason and a personality that doesn¡¯t come from exaggerated characterization. Yet when he and Harper have their reunion, he trips into tropes like smugly telling a long-winded metaphor that¡¯s threateningly predictive like any typical cinema psycho¡¯s monologue would be. Fresh takes on common clich¨¦s get ¡°Ravage¡± up to a high speed, but it can¡¯t break the finish tape without coasting on formula.
If we¡¯re not already there or even past it, we¡¯re approaching a point in culture¡¯s ongoing social awakening where movies featuring men beating, raping, or torturing women, even when those women ultimately exact vengeance, will have to confront a recalibration. The sheer volume of such films will reflect poorly on the horror genre as optics evolve to examine this category more critically in the light of a post-MeToo climate.
Until this shift takes place however, ¡°Ravage¡± has a few new tricks to teach that old dog. Content can be controversial and the film¡¯s knees buckle when it comes down for the landing. But ¡°Ravage¡± fires on enough cylinders that your mental engagement only has to fire on one: experiencing visceral thrills, chills, and spills with very few frills.
NOTE: ¡°Ravage¡± toured the 2019 festival circuit under the title ¡°Swing Low.¡±
Review Score: 65