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.”

7/10

She Who Must Burn (2015) Review

SHE_WHO_MUST_BURN_2D_DVDSHE WHO MUST BURN (2015)

Starring Sarah Smyth, Steve Bradley, Jewel Staite and Shane Twerdum

Directed by Larry Kent

Written by Larry Kent and Shane Twerdum

Out Now on iTunes here – https://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/she-who-must-burn/id1138405689

“When Angela refuses to leave her planned-parenthood clinic after it is shut down by the state, a family of fanatical evangelists vow to make her pay”.

“There’s a storm comin’…”

It’s a phrase that has stuck with me ever since Mother Abigail uttered it in Stephen King’s The Stand, and it’s often used in many a horror now. It’s that foreboding, of something slowly creeping up on you. It’s a sense of inevitability. An escalation you are powerless to stop. It’s this feeling that simmers through every frame of She Who Must Burn. Everyone in the film is driven by their belief. Different beliefs. And they refuse to budge. Which means, inevitably, things are going to go wrong. A storm will come…

swmb2In a small mining town suffering from a desperate economy and polluted water, Angela (Sarah Smyth) is sticking to her guns. Her clinic has been shut down but she is refusing to leave, much to the chagrin of not only her deputy partner Daryl (Steve Bradley) but also the Baarker family, a pack of Christian extremists who hold a powerful grip over the town. With Angela holding firm and continuing to cancel the desperate women who need her, events escalate. And all the while, a storm is coming…

Religion is terrifying. It has to be. Why else would their be so many religious themed horror films? But while many use the Devil and his minions to I still fear in us, what I find more terrifying is what absolute devotion to God can bring a person to doing. It’s that mindset, which, if you don’t think it, is impossible to understand, that scares me. It’s unpredictable. It can be right in front of you. There’s nothing scarier than a person doing bad things with the absolute belief that they are doing good. And by exploring this in such an intimate, grounded fashion, She Who Must Burn really was preaching to this choir.

swmb3Smyth is fantastic as Angela, holding the film together and being the rational centre of the story. She isn’t an atheist, she just wants to help her fellow women. As things get more insane, Smyth stays incredibly realistic, as if she is genuinely stunned by what is happening around her. There’s also a sympathetic turn from an unrecognisable Jewel Staite, but it’s more of a cameo. Filling out the “villains” of the peace, Missy Cross and Andrew Dunbar are superbly creepy in very different ways, but Shane Twerdum, who co-scripted with Kent, steals the show with his quietly menacing, always half-smiling Jeremiah, the pastor and leader of the Baarker brood.

Kent directs with an unassuming eye, with long takes often in close-up really allowing the actors to bare their soul. There is something refreshingly restrained about the piece as a whole. Don’t expect a film of trailer moments and action. This is more akin to smaller, seventies set chillers. It’s the sort of style that only comes with a seasoned filmmaker, no hairs and graces, just a good story well told.

Speaking of the story, the script is fantastically pared down. Eschewing the usual Hollywood structure, there aren’t really plot points. Although this may seem meandering to some, it only added to the air of gritty realism for me. The story moves forward not by plot, but by decisions and actions taken by the characters. It’s a character driven horror film, and it all feels entirely plausible, like a true crime documentary reconstruction.

swmb4As the storm gets closer and things proceed to a harrowing end, She Who Must Burn tightens a vice-like grip that you probably didn’t even realise it had on you.

Although it can be rough around the edges, with some scenes that go on for longer than necessary and a sometimes annoying shaky cam in the quieter scenes, She Who Must Burn is yet another example of the sort of brave material a filmmaker can come up with when free from the controlling shackles of a studio.

8/10