August 17, 2020 Ravage (Movie Review)
Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Bruce Dern, and Robert Longstreet star in the new Horror-Thriller Ravage, which arrives to select theaters and VOD on Friday, August 21, 2020, via Brainstorm Media.
Nature and wildlife photographer Harper Sykes (Dexter-Jones: Cecile on the Phone short 2017, Under the Silver Lake 2018), is on a trek to capture images of the largest old-growth forest on the Eastern seaboard. But the Watchatoomy Valley isn’t exactly known for its hospitality to outsiders, and when she witnesses a man named Ravener (Longstreet: Doctor Sleep 2019, Halloween Kills 2021) and his goons committing a heinous crime, she quickly finds herself the target of their murderous wrath.
A debut for Writer-Director Teddy Grennan (producer of 2013’s Ass Backwards and 2014’s Among Ravens), Ravage—originally titled Swing Low—also features the acting talents of Dern (Nebraska 2013, The Hateful Eight 2015), Ross Partridge (Stranger Things series, Room 104 series), Eric Nelsen (A Walk Among the Tombstones 2014, The Affair series), Joshua Brady (Ozark series, Atlanta series), Drake Shannon (Land of Leopold 2014, Primal 2019), Chris Pinkalla (Land of Leopold 2014, Neon Idaho short 2017) and Michael Weaver (Super Troopers 2001, Club Dread 2004).
An entry into the somewhat ambiguous Horror-Thriller field, Ravage is a mixed bag that unintentionally dooms itself to mediocrity. A combination of revenge and survival thrills, had the film succeeded in its premise it might have felt something like the 2010 remake of I Spit On Your Grave meets 2018’s Revenge, occasionally with a 1990s throwback feel. Instead, what we have here is a ferociously unrelenting female lead clawing her way out of a blend of dumb mistakes and altogether too convenient scenarios.
We begin with a framing device that sees Harper wrapped up and swaddled like a toilet paper mummy while hospitalized. An officer proceeds to have the most unprofessional and uncomfortable conversation with the victim, setting us up for a flashback to her “hillbilly fairytale” that occurred in the Valley. And from here we travel into the belly of the beast, which has both its highs and its lows.
Forgiving some of the minor issues with sound mixing and lighting, which only crop up on rare occasions, we are left with a rather banal tale of a woman who unwittingly sees something she should not, and is forced to fight if she wants to make it home alive. This is set upon a flimsy foundation where our heroine is a flat character with no background, our villain is little more than a trope, and he’s surrounded by nameless goons who are merely present as cannon fodder.
Certainly it’s not a major issue to overlook some of the minor flaws in the plot. However, it does require stamina and determination to continually forgive the stupid mistakes made by Harper. Yes, people in Horror movies always make bad decisions, but our heroine, an intelligent woman who can MacGuyver a raft out of thin air and perform a trapeze act to free herself from bondage, is constantly making ridiculous choices. Some are required to further the plot, sure, but others just seem to be a product of sloppy writing.
However, none of this is said to sully Dexter-Jones’ Harper, who is a badass. Bear Grylls-meets-MacGuyver in girl jeans or, if you prefer, “GI Jane with a camera,” Harper is the sole redeeming value of Ravage. While she is unfortunately an utterly flat character, and all we know about her is that she is a photographer with an impressive resume, Harper quickly becomes an intriguing focus. Never once pleading for her life, she outsmarts, outfoxes, and outruns Ravener and his henchmen at every turn. A physically demanding and messy role for Dexter-Jones, the actress delivers a powerful performance.
Again, in order to appreciate Harper, you will have to forgive the list of ridiculous fumbles that she makes throughout her journey. One of the strangest being an aborted river ride that delivers her onto the doorstep of Dern’s Mallincrkodt. Truly unsettling in his delivery, and offering up the eeriest dialogue in the entire film, Dern’s performance is a commendable stand-out. However, the segue into his scene fails to properly set the mood, leaving Dern to provide an exceptional moment that never fully ties into all the pandemonium; it feels patched in to add his name to the roster, and yet somehow forgivable as Dern delivers in spades.
At 84 minutes in length and with fairly consistent pacing, Ravage really is a mixed bag of an experience. Its score, composed by Jacques Brautbar (The O.C. series, The Walking Dead series), is bold. In fact, it’s so massive that, at times, the music overpowers the on-screen action and detracts from the scene rather than adding to it. Similarly, while some films are able to juxtapose a golden oldie into their soundtrack and make it fit flawlessly, the inclusion of the hymn “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” feels completely random, and was clearly used to give the film its original title, Swing Low. (Conversely, the Indie track located towards the end of the film is amusing and well-placed.)
Lest we give too much away, let’s just say that this all ends with a truly shocking visual that lends credence to Dern’s most powerful quote of the film: “Torture is the barometer of a nation’s creativity.” So despite everything said above, Ravage certainly does a stellar job at driving its main point home—and leaving viewers scarred for life. Therefore, if you are looking for a simple, no-frills Thriller with a killer female lead and a completely deranged grand finale, well, this is the film for you. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Ravage 3 of 5 stars.