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.