The Revenant, meaning “one that returns to life after death or a long absence,” is an apt title for this horror/comedy from writer/director Kerry Prior. Having been shot in 2008 and shown at a few genre festivals shortly after, it seemingly died on the shelf, only to reemerge in limited release just this month. The timing is probably better for it now, what with zombies being in vogue again thanks to AMC’s The Walking Dead, and vampires desperately needing to shed the sparkly, mopey stigma they’ve received of late.
But wait, zombies and vampires, you say? Well, not really. You see, the unfortunate and singular title character used to be Bart (David Anders), a U.S. soldier fighting in Iraq. When he is shot dead and his body is brought back to the states, he rises from the grave a sentient, articulate creature who doesn’t have fangs, but still is in a constant state of decomposition and requires human blood to sustain himself. There is no reason given for his transformation, although it’s implied that it’s because he never became born again, a fact mentioned by the priest who performs his funeral. So all you non-Christians out there might want to plan on open caskets when the time comes, just in case.
Anyway, this turn of events understandably freaks out his stoner best friend, Joey (Chris Wylde), to whom Bart first reveals himself. But they soon begin to see the advantages of Bart’s new immortal state when they successfully foil both a mugging and an attempted robbery. Since Bart needs blood to “survive,” they decide to become crime-fighting vigilantes, with Bart taking the blood of the beaten criminals, and the two of them disposing of the bodies.
Please be warned: none of this is as cool as it sounds. The horror genre has been around just about as long as film itself, and as a result is constantly struggling to be original, so a lot of what distinguishes a good scare is in the style, the look, the shock factor. In other words, it’s about the execution as much as the executions, and that’s where The Revenant falters.
Prior was also the editor in addition to writing and directing, and at almost two hours long, it shows. Why should he ever say no to himself? Who else was there in the production to tell him that an entire third of the film could have been left on the floor? There are several instances of multiple scenes that could have been streamlined into one. While Anders and Wylde do commit nicely to their parts, the script lacks the wit to justify the zombie pacing. Mostly it’s a lot of people standing around yelling “f—-” at each other. While that may truthfully reflect the level of discourse one would encounter should this happen in real life, it makes for some pretty sluggish screen time.
The film feels so long that it manages to convince the audience that it’s broken its own set of monster rules, a cardinal sin for any supernatural narrative. When, in the final act, we learn the rules are still intact, it’s too late; it comes as more of a relief that such a huge plot hole won’t be left unfilled rather than the geeky excitement of the dots connecting. It’s a shame because that same final act has most of the effective twists and gore and macabre humor—moments that make you wonder where all of it had been up until that point, and wish the film had just started there.
The Revenant isn’t funny or scary enough overall to be great, but with some good performances and an eleventh-hour upswing in the action, it’s not bad enough to ridicule, either. But if we’ve learned anything from the recent London Olympics, it’s that you have to do more than stick the landing in order to be a contender.
Director: Kerry Prior
Writer: Kerry Prior
Starring: David Anders, Chris Wylde, Jacy King, Louise Griffiths
Release Date: August 24, 2012 (limited)