White Raven (2015) Review

rsz_wr1White Raven (2015)

Directed by: Andrew Moxham.
Written by: Andrew Moxham.
Starring: Steve Bradley, Aaron Brooks, Andrew Dunbar and Shane Twerdun.

For release information check http://www.whitebuffalofilms.com/

Four men head into the remote woods on an annual camping trip. As one of them gradually loses his mind, the weekend of fun takes a turn for the worse and the other three must fight for their lives.”

Given a choice, there are lots of things I would do rather than go camping. I’ve never seen the appeal of holidaying somewhere cold, unhygienic and lacking the most of basic of facilities. I’ve never found myself thinking, “This seems like an appropriate spot in the wilderness where I could spend my vulnerable sleeping hours, protected from cruel nature and the harsh elements by only a flimsy sheet of polyurethane canvas with a 75 denier.”

Of course, this reluctance to be exposed to the great outdoors means that I’d never receive an invite to join the four camping buddies at the centre of White Raven: but I don’t see that as a bad thing.

rsz_wr3Each of the four characters at the heart of White Raven has a grim and bleak existence. Jake (Aaron Brooks: Bad City, Alien Trespass, Naked) is an alcoholic with a nagging wife and the results of a failed drugs test stamped across his (now revoked) pilot’s licence. Dan (Shane Twerdun: She Who Must Burn, Black Mountain Side, Two Married People) has just been told that the young waitress he’s banging has missed her period. Kev (Andrew Dunbar: When Calls the Heart, Leprechaun Origins, Christmas Icetastrophe) has a wife, coming home in the early hours and lying about where she’s been. And, when we first meet Pete (Steve Bradley: She Who Must Burn, Black Mountain Side, Hastings Street), he’s sucking on the barrel of his own handgun and trying to pluck up the courage to squeeze the trigger.

Each of them is living the sort of grim and bleak existence that makes a camping weekend with drunken losers seem like the epitome of fun. Not that I’m saying these party animals don’t have some fun. They wrestle one another with ‘five second fights’. They toast ‘chicks’ they have known. And they competitively shotgun beers. In amongst all the macho showboating, Jake confidently dismisses Dan’s worries about his current relationship by explaining, “There’s no such thing as too young.”

And, when the serious conversation threatens to become too much for the more light-hearted members of the group, Kev tactfully explains that he doesn’t want arguments and serious conversation and says, “I came here to drink beer and jerk off in tents.” I don’t know about anyone else but I’m thinking of using that as the signature for every one of my future Trip Advisor reviews.

rsz_wr2The film takes its title from a native American legend about a white raven stealing light and giving it to the world. Pete explains, “When you see a white raven, you’re in a part of the world where the light doesn’t reach.” And, it seems fair to say that this camping weekend is taking place in a pretty dark place. The acting, writing and direction in this one were strong, although I think the film did suffer a couple of devastating flaws. It didn’t help that Jake, Dan and Pete all have a similar build, similar colouring and, in the early stages of the film, are difficult to differentiate. The opening of the film was fairly slow as we were introduced to the backstory on each of these not-so-happy campers and the bleak lives they currently suffer. However, once it did get going, White Raven proved to be a darkly fun excursion into the wilderness.

If nothing else, White Raven is a good reminder why, if anyone invites you on a camping holiday, you should always say, “NO.”


She Who Must Burn (2015) Review

swmb1She Who Must Burn (USA, 2015)
Dir: Larry Kent
Starring: Sarah Smyth, Shane Twerdun, Missy Cross

This review contains SPOILERS – you have been warned !!

Plot: Angela (Smyth) is struggling to keep the planned-parenthood clinic she works at open due to pressure by local extremist evangelicals, lead by Jeremiah Baarker (Twerdun). Things really start to heat up when Baarker’s abused wife comes to Angela for help. Baarker believes that he’s doing God’s work and Angela’s sins must be punished.

She Who Must Burn manages to take some things that I object strongly to and mix it all into one film that tears my soul apart. The self-righteous and vile doctrines of extreme fundamentalist Christians, and vicious domestic violence and abuse are things that make my blood boil. It makes my anger at certain characters and my despair during certain scene all the more potent. It’s been a while since a film has made me feel so strongly. Veteran filmmaker Larry Kent crafts a film that is terrifying because in some places this isn’t fantasy. It makes me thankful that I live in a more secular country.

Sarah Smyth puts in a great performance as Angela although the character is not as important to the story as the villains are. Angela is a sweet and caring person, the kind of person you wouldn’t want to see anything bad happen to. It’s Shane Twerdun as Jeremiah Baarker who brings the menace to this film, the smug and pious preacher who gives a bad name to Christians everywhere. His vile character isn’t alone though, The Baarker family are a nasty bunch including the patriarch, Abraham who’s been locked up for shooting up a clinic, and the Jeremiah’s sister, Rebecca (Cross) who lacks Jermiah’s calm exterior and substitutes it with violent tendencies. The rest of the cast of She Who Must Burn are amazing, it really captures the small religious community. Fans of the show Firefly might be a little distressed though, Jewel Staite who played Kaylee, is Jeremiah’s abused wife in this film.

swmb2This film is mostly amazing, even if it is highly distressing. There is one thing that annoys me with it and it is the ending. That means I have to get a little spoilery to talk about it so take that as a warning.

During the film’s violent climax, there is a storm and with every killing blow from the fundamentalists there is a cutaway to a lightning strike in the storm. So far that’s fine. However after the murders of innocent and caring people, the storm really kicks off and kills the fundamentalists. It’s here that I have a problem because it feels like it’s divine intervention, which would have been great if God hadn’t waited for the fundamentalists to kill a bunch of innocents. I really wish that this scene could have ended after the murders, and that the lightning strikes could be shown as devoid of any religious meaning as the murders themselves. Weather is just weather and murder, regardless of your religious intent, is still just murder. Instead we get the bad guys getting punished at the hands of their own God, but no justice for the people that were murdered.

swmb3Despite this ending, it’s still a very good film that I highly recommend. She Who Must Burn was the final film that I saw during the Dead By Dawn Festival in Edinburgh this year and overall a great festival with a great line up. Dead By Dawn is held annually in April and promises a great mix of old and new horror features as well as a huge amount of short films. This year was my first year attending Dead By Dawn and hopefully not my last.