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Film Review: ‘Among Ravens’

Idaho is the only thing that winds up looking good in this terminally trite dysfunctional-family melodrama.

With:
Amy Smart, Joshua Leonard, Christian Campbell, Russell Friedenberg, Victoria Smurfit, Natalie Imbruglia, Will McCormack, Johnny Sequoyah.

Secrets are unearthed, marriages are endangered and avian metaphors are tortured to death in “Among Ravens,” the rare dysfunctional-family melodrama that might just make you long for a second viewing of “August: Osage County.” Idaho’s gorgeous natural scenery serves as the backdrop for this terminally trite ensembler about various so-called adults coming together for a fateful Fourth of July holiday, their every harsh word and bad decision captured from the perspective of a preternaturally wise young child who’s as much of a walking cliche as they are. The film opens theatrically and on demand July 18 through Gravitas Ventures, after which it will probably be heard from nevermore.

The story is narrated by a young girl, Joey (Johnny Sequoyah), who notes at the outset, “Ravens really like to be together, like family. Let me introduce you to my ravens.” You’ll wish she hadn’t. First there’s Joey’s mom, Wendy (Amy Smart), the genial glue holding everyone together, and stepfather, Ellis (Joshua Leonard), whose sense of financial responsibility is about as good as his taste in suits. Then there’s Joey’s biological father, Saul King (Russell Friedenberg, who wrote the film and co-directed it with Randy Redroad), a self-absorbed author who’s likened in passing to F. Scott Fitzgerald, even though his bestsellers are all the work of a secret ghostwriter (Christian Campbell).

There’s more: Saul’s unfaithful trophy wife (Victoria Smurfit), a weed-smoking life coach (Calum Grant), and his redheaded hippie nymphomaniac g.f. (Castille Landon). By far the most unwelcome guest — from the p.o.v. of the other characters, if not the audience — is Chad (Will McCormack), an awkward and intense fellow in his 20s with an unspecified mental condition, a love of bird watching, and a pesky habit of filming and photographing everything in sight. Chad and Joey become fast friends, leaving us to conclude that these two equally childlike innocents are too pure and profound for this world — and certainly for all the insufferable nasties and narcissists they’ve been saddled with.

Nicely shot, atrociously written, shoutingly acted and intrusively scored (to classical selections and the heavy synth accompaniment of Fall on Your Sword), this roundelay of misery drowns itself in cliche after cliche — up to and including the moment when (spoiler alert) a character decides to remove himself permanently from the picture; few will blame him. The version screened for review still bore the film’s working title, “An Unkindness of Ravens,” not to be confused in any way with the excellent Ruth Rendell crime novel of the same name.

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Film Review: 'Among Ravens'

Reviewed online, Pasadena, Calif., July 18, 2014. Running time: 103 MIN.

Production: A Gravitas Ventures release of an Iron Circle Pictures presentation. Produced by Heather Rae, Teddy Grennan, Dori Sperko. Executive producers, Jeff Steen, Jerri Moore, Arlene Inch. Co-producer, Laura Mehlhaff.

Crew: Directed by Randy Redroad, Russell Friedenberg. Screenplay, Friedenberg. Camera (color), Darren Genet; editors, Redroad, Terilyn A. Shropshire; music, Fall on Your Sword; production designer, Debbie Devilla; art director, Amy O'Brien; set decorator, Jennifer Mullins; costume designer, Marie Boller; sound, Jonathan "Earl" Stein; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Ryan Price; stunt coordinator, Rob Namer; second unit camera, Harrison Sanborn; associate producers, Robert McMurphy, June Daniels, A. Brooks Medoff, Tamara A. Edwards.

With: Amy Smart, Joshua Leonard, Christian Campbell, Russell Friedenberg, Victoria Smurfit, Natalie Imbruglia, Will McCormack, Johnny Sequoyah.

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