×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Ravenous’

Robin Aubert's idiosyncratic and nuanced drama breathes fresh life into the zombie apocalypse subgenre.

With:
Marc-André Grondin, Monia Chokri, Micheline Lanctot, Brigitte Poupart, Charlotte St-Martin, Marie-Ginette Guay, Edouard Tremblay-Grenier, Luc Proulx, Didier Lucien, Martin Heroux, Robert Brouillette. (French dialogue.)

The zombie apocalypse subgenre has proven sufficiently durable and extensive to encompass everything from traditional horror to romantic comedy, sociopolitical metaphor to knockabout farce. But it’s doubtful that any previous movie or TV drama about the voracious undead has deserved the label of “contemplative” as much as writer-director Robin Aubert’s “The Ravenous” (“Les Affames”), an eerily melancholy horror story set in a contemporary Quebec countryside, where the line between life and death is relentlessly smudged and the survival instinct is repeatedly undermined by fatalistic resignation.

To be sure, Aubert plays by the rules of the game when it comes to establishing the particulars of his plot: Flesh-eating zombies of unknown origin infect or devour humans; the creatures can be terminated only with bullets to the head or through the energetic application of sharp instruments; an increasingly desperate and gradually dwindling group of survivors take their last best shot at traveling toward a safe haven.

But as the late Roger Ebert once sagely noted: It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it. What makes “The Ravenous” so unique, arresting and ultimately quite moving is the allusive and elliptical style of Hubert’s storytelling, and his ability to smoothly maneuver through tonal shifts from pensive and regretful to horrific and hyperventilating. His is a film that suggests “Night of the Living Dead” as reimagined by Michelangelo Antonioni, with elements of “Zombieland” (including a clever variation of that dark comedy’s funniest gag) and Bresson’s “L’Argent” tossed in for good measure. Stretches of intense human interaction are interspersed with moments of low-key humor that are gentle, even sweet, and dramatically potent zombie assaults that are all the more jolting for their contrapuntal chaos and abruptness.

The narrative slowly, stealthily takes shape during the film’s first half through the accumulation of events and observations whose randomness is more apparent than real. In a village where the populace has been decimated by the undead, an unattended cow placidly dines on the lawn of a deserted home. On a nearby street, a pants-suited businesswoman (Brigitte Poupart), her facial muscles tightened by resolve, turns her car radio up to full volume to attract one of the walking dead — and methodically hacks the creature to bloody shreds. Off in the woods, a bearded and bespectacled nerd turned grimly efficient zombie-slayer (Marc-André Grondin) wistfully admits to his companion that he really, really wishes he had told a female acquaintance of his infatuation for her before the apocalypse started.

And in another part of the countryside, an elderly man (Luc Proulx) who may already be carrying the zombie virus confesses to a gun-toting boy (Edouard Tremblay-Grenier) that he probably waited too long to slay his zombified family. The boy doesn’t pass judgment because he can sympathize: He, too, hesitated before shooting his infected mother.

“The Ravenous” takes nearly an hour to bring together these and other disparate characters — including the nerd’s mom (Micheline Lanctôt) and her equally flinty companion (Marie-Ginette Guay); a plucky orphaned girl (Charlotte St-Martin); and a haggard but resilient survivor (Monia Chokri) who clings tenaciously to her last possession, an accordion — for an overland trek toward what they hope is a zombie-free zone. Even after the group coalesces, however, Hubert continues to play his cards close to his vest. Not only do we never discover precisely what caused the zombie outbreak; we never learn what unites and drives the undead, or why they periodically gather to reverentially gaze at immense mounds of toys, furniture, appliances and other remnants of their pre-zombie existence. Maybe they remain just cognizant enough to vaguely recall what they used to be. And then again, maybe not.

The uniformly well-cast actors (especially Grondin, Chokri and Poupart) are perfectly attuned to Hubert’s ambiguous vision, providing nuances and generating rooting interest for deliberately sketchy characters. Indeed, the filmmaker emphatically cuts away before the deaths of two characters, as though he figured, rightly, that we wouldn’t want to see them killed on camera. On the other hand, at least two others go down swinging — and hacking — in vividly blood-soaked detail. Their final moments are at once tragic and transcendent.

Chalk it up as just one of the many surprises this movie has in store for anyone who might doubt that there’s any way to breathe fresh life into a zombie apocalypse scenario.

Toronto Film Review: 'The Ravenous'

Reviewed online, Houston, Sept. 12, 2017. (In Toronto Film Festival; Fantastic Fest.) Running time: 96 MIN. (Original title: “Les Affames”)

Production: (Canada) A Les Films Christal presentation of a La Maison de Prod production. (International sales: Alma Cinema, Paris.) Producer: Stephanie Morissette.

Crew: Director, writer: Robin Aubert. Camera (color): Steeve Desrosiers, Nicolas Ilis. Editor: Robin Aubert, Francis Cloutier.

With: Marc-André Grondin, Monia Chokri, Micheline Lanctot, Brigitte Poupart, Charlotte St-Martin, Marie-Ginette Guay, Edouard Tremblay-Grenier, Luc Proulx, Didier Lucien, Martin Heroux, Robert Brouillette. (French dialogue.)

More Film

  • Beatriz Bodegas on Netflix Original: ‘Who

    ‘Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?’ Producer on New Spanish Netflix Original

    BARCELONA – “Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?” is the second directorial outing from Spain’s Jota Linares (“Animales sin collar”) a Netflix Original premiering on Friday, March 22 in competition at the Malaga Spanish Language Film Festival. Starring María Pedraza, Jaime Lorente, Pol Monen and Andrea Ros, the film is the movie adaptation [...]

  • Beijing Festival Unveils 'Max Max,' 'Bourne'

    Beijing Festival Unveils 'Max Max,' 'Bourne,' Kurosawa Screening Series

    The upcoming Beijing International Film Festival will give space to high profile Hollywood franchise movies with screenings of all films in both the “Mad Max” and “Bourne Identity” series. Classic Hollywood fare will also feature prominently in a line-up that, as usual, features an eclectic grab bag of titles. The local government-backed festival opens April [...]

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

  • 'Roll Red Roll' Review: Piercing Documentary

    Film Review: 'Roll Red Roll'

    “Roll Red Roll” is a piercingly relevant and disturbing documentary about an infamous high school rape case that took place in Steubenville, Ohio (pop. 18,600), on Aug. 11, 2012. Steubenville, the sort of Friday-night-lights small town that boasts signs that read “Kick off for Jesus,” is a place that’s good at keeping secrets. When the [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild, Hollywood Agents Negotiate With Deadline Looming

    The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents have held a sixth negotiating session with a deadline for a new deal 16 days away — and it’s uncertain whether progress is being made. The Association of Talent Agents made counter-proposals at Thursday’s session that contain provisions for more accountability and transparency by agencies for clients [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Fox Layoffs Leave Staffers Stunned and Saddened

    Fox employees knew this day was coming. For over a year, the men and women who work at the Century City lot have talked of little else but severance packages and job searches. They knew that when Disney wrapped up its $71.3 billion acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets, thousands [...]

  • Alan Horn Disney

    Disney Clarifies Film Leadership After Harrowing Day of Fox Layoffs

    Following the dismissal of top executives in distribution, marketing and strategy on Thursday, new 20th Century Fox owner Disney has clarified its new top leadership. Five distinct Fox labels and a portion of their leadership have been welcomed into the Disney fold, the company said. This includes Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Family, Fox Searchlight Pictures, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content