Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fantasia Day 5 - The Revenant

Okay, now we are starting to get somewhere! I barely even got a ticket for The Revenant. I had it on my principal list, but when it came time to confirming it, I couldn't even remember why I had chosen it. I flipped back to the program and the movie really didn't look like anything interesting. But it had Mitch Davis's name on the bottom of the write-up and that guy has never steered me wrong (Okay, I didn't quite share his enthusiasm for At World's End, but that's the first strike in a long line of home runs and triples). Well I am glad I did end up following his advice because Revenant was not only entertaining but also a suprisingly deep and well-written film that went far beyond its initial premise, both in theme and narrative.

Let me also add that while I have been thoroughly enjoying myself at Fantasia this year, I haven't quite gotten the bug yet. Part of that is that none of the midnight showings (where the real craziness can happen) appeal to me. But man, sitting in that sold-out theatre Monday night, with the place buzzing before Mitch even got to the mic, I felt pretty psyched. Where else can you get that kind of atmosphere on a late show on a Monday night!? This is what Fantasia is all about and I was thoroughly glad that I dragged myself downtown for another too-late night.

Revenant is the story of Bart Gregory, a soldier who returns dead from the middle east. A couple of days later, he wakes up. He goes to his best friend's house (who is already shown to be a bit of a slacker with some loose morals when gets with the dead guy's grieving girlfriend). It turns out he is undead and after lots of shock and misadventures in trying to figure out what the hell is going on, the two realize that the guy needs blood every night to stay (what? alive? undead? mobile? in any case if he doesn't get his blood, his body starts to deteriorate). At first accidentally, and then finally with real purpose, the two go out night after night, killing criminals for their blood (and their cash and guns and coke). There is a real party atmosphere at the beginning, and an absolutely fantastic musical montage of the two out in the Los Angeles night done to the slamming beats and potent voice of La Mala Rodriguez' Yo Tengo un Trato (I bought it on iTunes; she rocks I must learn more, shit I just had to listen to it again before I could keep writing).

But of course, things get complicated. Much of this part of the movie is about the relationship between the two friends and the two other women in their lives, including Bart's girlfriend and her spiritual and meddling best friend. The latter character is a really interesting one (they actually all are), as she is both posited as the jealous weak link but also as the one who calls the situation correctly, at least from a nerdy vampire-hunting perspective. There is a lot going on in the film and that is a part of what makes it so enjoyable. Usually with these kinds of premises (a group of friends face some radical, supernatural change in their lives), the conflict is ultimately about the social and the film ends when that is resolved (usually by most of them dying and one of them learning something). Revenant has such a set-up and the ensuing conflicts, but there are several other narrative strains, including the gradual accumulation of knowledge about his undead state and the complications resulting from them going around killing criminals. It makes for a rich film with lots of great locations and situations that just keeps moving forward.

And had we rested there, I would have been quite satisfied, but Revenant keeps on going. They take the premise about as far as they can go. In the last bit the movie broadens its scope considerably. For some this may have seemed like a bit of a departure from what went on before and possibly quite jarring, but I found that it made for an engrossing journey where I really had no idea where we would end up. My concern going into Fantasia was that I would always know where we were going to end up. Revenant is the first one where I was heading towards the horizon, the tiller wide open with no compass and it was awesome.

Furthermore, it is an interesting film, whose energy and humour belies a very dark soul. There are no really redeemable characters here. The way character is revealed, gradually, is really well done. People you thought you could shoehorn into types have layers peeled away gradually, adding depth to what went on before. There are also some brave treatments of race relations in L.A. which at first looked like a white male fantasy (a couple of cool white guys who get to be vampires and take out black and latino gang bangers) and then become much darker and critical. Finally, there some great references to classic monster movies here. All in all, a real success. I enjoyed myself enormously.

Once again, there was a Q & A with the director, who was a well-contained fellow. He said he's gotten good reaction from all the film festivals he's been to (and it was a lot, something like 33 I think) but that we were the best. He normally goes and has a beer during the screening, but the reception was so great right from the beginning that he decided to stay. I felt like saying "Aww, you say that to all the audiences." But it was cool to hear. It was quite apparent that he is a thoughtful guy, both artistically in terms of themes and ideas of the movie and geekily, in the sense that he had clearly thought out thoroughly the ramifications of the vampirism in Revenant. Nevertheless, even after several questions which were obviously things left to the audience's interpretation and which he answered such, people kept on wanting "answers". "What was in the letter?" "Why did x character do y?" Even worse were the nerdy undead technical questions. "If he had re-attached his arm and then gone to sleep, would it have re-connected and worked again?" Come on, people! Relax your nerd-grip, live with some nuance, exist without a concrete explanation. It's not that hard! :) However, even with these kinds of questions, the director gave great answers that often led to some cool anecdotes about the production of the film and the kind of thinking and research that went behind it, including a cool-sounding book on revenants from the 15th century whose title I forgot.

Unfortunately, this was the sole screening of The Revenant. Definitely check it out if (or I hope when) it gets distributed. I'm fired up!


meezly said...

nice review, I wish I'd gone to see it now.

it was probably mentioned in the Fantasia writeup, but was this film also inspired by Death Dream?

OlmanFeelyus said...

It was mentioned in the write-up, but nobody actually asked the question. The basic plot is almost exactly the same, for sure. We can ask Mitch the next time we see him.

Kerry said...

Hi, you guys. At almost very festival someone mentions DEATH DREAM--I haven't seen it yet, so I can't claim it as an influence. I've realized that I'm not nearly as film literate as the audiences at these festivals, which is a little embarrassing. But it's on my Netflix que, so I'm looking forward to it. (I love the premise anyway!)

Hope you enjoyed the movie.

Kerry Prior

OlmanFeelyus said...

Clearly I did enjoy the movie! And thanks for posting. I'll amend what I wrote in my comment above and say the premise of Death Dream is very similar to The Revenant, but they are very different movies (though they may touch on similar themes). Also, you've probably never seen it because it's Canadian! ;)