Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lawrie Brewster's The Unkindness of Ravens

Cody takes a look at the 3-disc release of a Scottish horror film.

Described as "The Evil Dead meets Apocalypse Now", director Lawrie Brewster's The Unkindness of Ravens is a film with a very budget-conscious concept. The story, scripted by Sarah Daly, plays out largely in one location - an artist's retreat cabin in the Scottish Highlands - and centers on the man who is staying at the cabin alone, at the recommendation of this therapist. That man is Jamie Scott Gordon as Andrew, a homeless veteran of the war in Afghanistan who is suffering from PTSD and trying to deal with it through nature photography and writing poetry. Spending some time relaxing in this peaceful, isolated cabin would seem like a great thing for Andrew to do... if only there weren't crows and ravens flying around.

Whatever Andrew experienced in Afghanistan, it has left him with an intense fear of crows and ravens. Although his therapist has advised him to face this fear, it's quite clear to the viewer that this isn't something he's going to be able to get a handle on anytime soon. Especially when he starts hallucinating his own doppelganger (see, now we have two characters interacting, but they're played by the same actor - again, budget-conscious), who maniacally torments him with warnings that the birds are going to come for him and feast on his dead flesh.

The more time Andrew spends in the cabin, the more terrifying and intense his hallucinations get. He sees the ravens coming in for him. And it's not just the birds. There are also these humanoid figures called the Raven Warriors that wear masks and suits of armor and have Freddy Krueger-like claws on their gloves. These creatures, who like to collect the eyes of their victims, look extremely cool and I was left wanting to see even more of them.

Intercut with the hallucinations are also flashbacks to Andrew's time in Afghanistan, and this is where Brewster really expands the scope of the film. This isn't just a one-man show at the cabin all the time, we are also shown scenes of soldiers engaging in firefights. Explosions go off. Helicopters fly overhead. The CGI used to bring some of these elements to the screen isn't entirely convincing, but I have to give Brewster credit for not holding back. He really went for it in these moments.

Things get really bad for Andrew, and we descend into the madness right along with him. Although The Unkindness of Ravens has a reasonable running time of 89 minutes, some viewers may find the journey to the climactic insanity a bit slow for their taste. The film moves along at a deliberate pace, and keep in mind we are hanging out with just one guy most of the time. It requires some patience to get through this one, but Gordon's performance truly does make Andrew a fascinating character who's worth spending this time with, and the film is packed with terrific cinematography. The quality of the images cinematographers Michael Brewster and Gavin Robertson captured in picturesque locations is stunning to look at; rarely is the film's lower budget evident from the shots on the screen. This is a really great looking film.

Overall, I found The Unkindness of Ravens to be very impressive on nearly every level. It won't be for everyone, but it was interesting and exceptionally well made. I look forward to seeing more from Lawrie Brewster, and to seeing Jamie Scott Gordon in more films.

Even the release the film has been given is impressive. It comes as a 3-disc set, the discs held inside an eight panel fold-out package that displays some nice artwork. The discs themselves are a Blu-ray copy of the film and bonus features, a DVD copy of the film and bonus features, and a soundtrack CD.

When I say those discs contain bonus features, I mean they are packed with them. The feature itself is 89 minutes, but the you'll learn pretty much everything you'd want to know about the making of it by watching the 103 minute behind-the-scenes documentary and listening to the audio commentary recorded by Brewster and Gordon, a track that's a good mixture of insight and crude humor. There's also more than an hour of interviews with various people involved with the film, 20 minutes of deleted scenes, 4 minutes of pranks where the Raven Warriors go around scaring people, 6 minutes of short stories built out of footage from the film, and a 17 minute extra called "Mythos", which is basically an audiobook for a short story that digs into the mythology of the Raven Warriors.

This set will keep you busy for quite a while, as there are a lot of intriguing and captivating things on these discs.

If you would like to check this set out for yourself, copies can be ordered directly from the filmmakers at Hex-Media.

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