The Revenant (2009)

OCTOBER 20, 2009


I have been hearing good things about The Revenant, which allowed me to forgive the film’s reported two hour runtime. At least, that was the case BEFORE the movie. As yet another reel was loaded in, past a point where I felt the movie should have ended (time-wise, not narrative-wise), I began to wonder if director Kerry Prior was still filming the thing, and feeding reels to the projector as they came in (indeed, part of the film’s climax occurs right outside of the Mann’s Chinese 6 that we were sitting in - weird moment). But that's my only real concern with what is otherwise a terrifically funny and unique movie.

In fact, for the first 90 minutes or so, the movie is damn near perfect. The physical similarity of Bart and Joey (our main characters; Bart’s the zombie) to Shaun and Ed is a bit unfortunate, but it’s luckily NOT a Shaun clone in any way, and the main characters’ chemistry is more Kevin Smith than Edgar Wright. They’re a bit irate, they swear (a LOT), and they generally get on each others’ nerves while retaining their ‘best bud’ status. But the comedy comes not from winking homage to other zombie films, but in the way that Prior presents some of the obstacles that might arise from their situation.

For example, when they need blood, they try a hospital, hoping to get it in a bag instead of from some poor sod’s neck (a revenant, apparently, is a sort of vampire/zombie hybrid). But he is thwarted by a Scientologist nurse who tries to get him to take a Thetan test, as she assumes he is a confused goth kid. And when they decide to turn to criminals to satisfy Bart’s hunger, they inadvertently become vigilantes, saving would be rape victims and liquor store owners from harm (and then grossing them out when said folks see what they were really there for). It’s the unique film that takes a familiar premise and manages to avoid cliché (and even expectations) for the rest of its running time.

There are also a hefty number of sight gags and throwaway lines that kept me chuckling and guffawing throughout the runtime. Bart writing “General malaise” under symptoms when he goes to the hospital to find out why he’s behaving like a zombie is one of the biggest laughs in the film, and Joey’s apartment features a gloriously tacky neon light with the classic Last Supper image in the center that made me laugh every single time it appeared in a shot. In fact, the production design as a whole is largely terrific; not only does Joey have normal objects in his house like an Xbox 360 (for some reason, a lot of movies feature way older consoles in people’s apartments, which always makes me think the prop folks are way out of touch), but the various convenience stores feature Coke and Miller Genuine Draft, not Movie Wow Soda and (insert random word) Beer. Things like this help ground the film in reality, and it’s always appreciated.

It’s also oddly moving at times, which is tricky to pull off given the outlandish premise and abundance of humor. There’s a touching scene where Bart finally confronts his girlfriend and explains his situation, and Prior makes the brilliant choice of drowning out their dialogue and letting their body language (and a nice singer-songwriter ditty on the soundtrack) obscure what is likely to be silly dialogue anyway. And the final scene between Bart and Joey (well, his head) also resonates, as it ends a friendship that has obviously been important to both men (Joey seems more distraught than the girlfriend at Bart’s funeral (which opens the film), and his is the first place Bart turns to when he rises from the grave). I also enjoyed Prior's direction, which favored long takes of master shots over close-ups and quick cutting, which again reminded me of the best work of Kevin Smith, and the largely un-showy style was perfect for this outlandish but still somewhat laid back story.

But the final 20 minutes just try to cram in too many ideas, and it also seems that Prior felt the film needed a big gory climax, which I don’t think it needed at all. (SPOILERS AHEAD!) So instead of something a bit more low-key (like the rest of the film) and funny, we get Bart rampaging through the LA Subway, only to surface at the corner of Hollywood & Highland, where the police are all aiming guns at him. However, the frightened passengers begin running out of the subway entrance, which spooks the police into opening fire and killing dozens of innocent people (via really terrible CGI bullet holes and blood spray). Then Bart runs between the cops to escape, and they all shoot each other in the fracas. It’s way over-the-top, not amusing in the slightest, and just seems grafted in from a different movie entirely, not to mention lengthens the already overlong film. Then the final scene is fine (and contains terrific usage of Weezer’s “Only In Dreams”), but it feels like a sequel setup and (again), comes out of nowhere. I have heard that there is a shorter cut floating around, let’s hope that if that’s the one that gets wide release, that it fixes some of these pacing/length issues (the length was a common complaint amongst folks I talked to after the film, all of whom otherwise enjoyed it as much as I did).

How this movie has no distribution yet is a bit of a puzzler. With zomcom’s back in style thanks to Zombieland, you’d think an equally funny and slightly more original film in the sub-genre would be in the middle of a bidding war. Hopefully whoever DOES pick it up (Magnolia?) presents it in its best cut (with maybe a few bucks to fix some of the CGI issues) and gives it a nice release. It may lack big stars (I only recognized David Anders, who is hardly a household name) but it delivers big-screen entertainment all the same, and up there with Human Centipede as one of the no-contest highlights of this year’s Screamfest.

What say you?

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