Zombie movies have been one of the most successful and beloved subgenre in horror cinema. They still are, with this specific branch of horror film reinventing itself in the last 15 years or so, either as comedies or as more socially active in terms of subtext.
French-Canadian Les Affamès (translated to English as Ravenous and distributed worldwide on Netflix) belongs to the latter group. With this movie, writer and director Robin Aubert tells the very simple and unoriginal story of a small, remote village (this time in upstate Quebec) where people are not the same anymore. Their bodies are breaking down and they have turned into flesh-feasting beings who hunt down the few survivors.
We follow three different groups that end up getting together towards the middle and last third of the film. While they try to survive, our bunch of characters are also busy with getting to know each other and finding themselves in such a horrendous situation.
With such a premise, Ravenous turns a run-for-your-life plot into a much deeper and more profound ride that finds its focus on the characters and studies them.
Problem though – and I know this is a very personal thing – the characters here are pretty much all unlikeable. The movie tries to give them depth, mostly in regards to Bonin (Marc-André Grondin) and Tania (Monia Chokri), but to me they’re all quite one-dimensional. Yet, the one dimension of them we get to know is rather annoying: they make stupid decisions, they spit out one-liners that, on paper, might seem profound but end up nonsensical.
Although Ravenous looks great, with stunning landscapes shot in Ham-Nord, the hometown of director Robin Aubert, the whole look and feel is rather dull, because of the unimaginative camera-work. Simply put, if I place a camera in front of a beautiful path in the woods, that might look very cool; however, if you spend almost one minute only looking at that, even a gorgeous landscape becomes tedious.
It’s obvious that the director was familiar with every bunker, farm, forest, meadow and mine in the region as each location is used very efficiently throughout the movie. Nonetheless, that didn’t save Ravenous from being, for the majority of its long runtime, uneventful. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate slow-burners: most of my favourite films can be labelled as such. However, there’s a difference between slow and uneventful, with the latter being represented in Ravenous through static shots and rather pointless dialogue.
Although the atmosphere is competently established, the lack of relatable characters and the faulty execution make it dull and uninteresting. Especially towards the end, where Ravenous goes all out artsy-fartsy, turning sequences that would have been gory and exciting into a pointless, slo-mo mess. Yet, some of the imagery during the last 20 minutes of the film might have looked great if only it made sense, including a post-credit scene that I honestly didn’t get.
Reading into the movie a bit (mostly on IMDb and reputable sources), it seems that Ravenous features a social commentary about politics and politicians. Maybe it’s just me being stupid, but I didn’t get any of that from the movie – if I hadn’t read into it, I wouldn’t have had a clue and that just means the film failed in delivering a message, at least to me.
In addition, Ravenous fails to present two key elements in a zombie movie: gore, with the violent scenes happening mostly off screen, and cool looking zombies. In this respect, the minimalistic makeup shows the low budget at the disposal of the filmmakers but also proves how little they cared about depicting believable flesh eaters: in fact, Lucio Fulci has been able to create believable zombies even with the low budget he could rely on (photo).
Ultimately, Ravenous fails to please both fans of old-school zombie flicks and lovers of unconventional filmmaking (like myself). Although the film isn’t terrible (for example, the acting is good even though the characters aren’t interesting), in the end it feels highly pretentious and frustrating, since it’s not able to live up to its potential.
Ravenous (Les Affames) 4.5/10
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My review is also available on IMDb – Ravenous (Les Affames)