RAVENOUS (LES AFFAMES) (2017 - French)

Ravenous - Les Affames.jpg

Studio:       Netflix
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

Review Score:



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