It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017, and 2018.

Ravenous is a 2017 French-language Canadian zombie film, written and directed by Robin Aubert, and if this is any indication as to the quality of the rest of his work, he is a director that we all should be paying much more attention to. This is easily the best film we’ve seen this year so far, and ranks as one of the strongest entries in our now eleven years of running the marathon.

The main reason for this is that Aubert doesn’t see this as an entryway film, or a way to cash in on the zombie craze. In interviews, he’s stated that ever since he was a child he wanted to make a zombie movie, but until The Walking Dead blew up, it wasn’t the sort of thing that could easily get financed in Quebec. But once zombies proved to not only be cult favorite films, but profitable as well, he was able to get the funding needed and Ravenous, or Les Affames, is the result.

Wisely, the film isn’t concerned with the beginnings of the outbreak, or the origins. The main focus here is on the people, and Aubert’s script is a masterpiece of subtlety and revealing of character through action with minimal dialogue. There are only the barest hints of any character’s back story. There’s always only just enough to let you know what you need to know about them, then Aubert sits back and lets the actors’ performances shine.

The film opens with a few vignettes that introduce us to our protagonists – although the race car driver from the very first scene doesn’t return until the end – and sets the stage for what the zombie apocalypse is like this time around. And it’s just different enough from your traditional scenario to bring a fresh feel to what could have been tired clichés. For instance, these zombies aren’t just shambling corpses. They hunt, laying traps, leading people into ambushes. They also shriek in a way that is more human than monster, making their sprinting attacks all the more unnerving. There’s also the matter of the strange towering piles of mundane furniture that they keep building. Once the towers are built, they then stand around in a weird form of worship?

It’s bizarre, and at the same time, visually striking. This is especially the case with the tower of chairs that our heroes discover near the climax of the film. This strange chair-cairn rises up out of the mist in an amazing piece of architectural engineering that serves to complicate to their mysterious meanings – as does the strange appearance of a parrot in the post-credit scene. Is this meant to symbolically suggest that these towers and their apparent worship are just echoes of behavior? Are they mimicking the lives they had before becoming infected?

Regardless of the meaning, these moments are some of the most striking and unique in the film, helping to elevate Ravenous to more than just a simple exploration of existential dread and into something more mysterious, or even spiritual.

The film is beautifully shot by Steeve Desrosiers, who makes amazing use of the French countryside, forests, and rustic farmhouses to make what is normally just gorgeous, also filled with dread and anticipation. The natural lighting and the fog create a dreamlike feel that hearkens back to the work of Carpenter, Fulci, and even Antonioni and Fellini. In fact, most of this film actually takes place in the daylight, flipping the traditional notions of nighttime being the most frightening times for zombie attacks. The entire film is simply a joy to look at.

Our characters are not your stock characters, either. Marc-Andre Grondin plays Bonin, a science fiction loving nerd whose bad doctor jokes serve to both break the tension and make things seem worse somehow. It’s not a traditional lead for a zombie film, and his performance allows for a believability that is missing from many zombie films. He’s not a cartoon, I guess is what I’m saying. Or a cliché. He meets Tania (Monia Chokri), a woman with a bite she swears is a dog bite. This standard zombie moment is teased and then subverted as the film progresses. Chokri’s performance is also very naturalistic and when she prefers to carry her accordion instead of a gun for most of the film, it reveals more about her than any dialogue. We also have Therese (Marie-Ginette Guay) and Pauline (Micheline Lanctot) and elderly lesbian couple whose relationship isn’t ever even brought up. They are simply there and we aren’t asked to make their sexuality an issue. To sound repetitive, their performances are also simply perfect. They’re tough but likeable, and have survived so far by staying on their farm, away from the cities.

Ravenous’ “Darryl” character is not what one might expect. Brigitte Poupart plays Celine as a bad-ass, cold-blooded zombie killer, blood-splattered from her machete work, but still wearing a pants suit as though she were on her way to work. In just a brief bit of dialogue, she reveals that she was just a normal housewife who only survived because she was out getting an manicure when the zombies killed her entire family. And that’s all we need to know. Since then, she’s become the hardened warrior that every zombie survivalist group needs.

And you’ve got to have a kid along, so Ravenous introduces us to Charlotte St-Martin as Zoe (whose name means life, in a nice bit of symbolism). St-Martin is again, wonderfully naturalistic in her performance, and though she’s just a small child, she’s probably the one who is most prepared to live in this new world. She has no sentimentality and matter-of-factly states the truths that the others try to avoid acknowledging.

There are other characters that appear and disappear along the way, and suffice it to say, everybody does a magnificent job. I could write a paragraph praising every single actor and discussing what makes their characters some of the strongest I’ve seen in any film, much less a zombie movie. Aubert’s script is simply a joy from start to finish.

Ravenous is a quiet film, until the screaming starts. The believability of the performances along with the verisimilitude of the dialogue makes this easily one of the strongest zombie films to hit the market in recent years.

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