My notes on The Unkindness of Ravens
Andrew (Jamie Scott Gordon), hirsute enough to look like an ancient warrior, wanders through a widescreen border country, which may be woodland between Scotland and England, a liminal zone between life and death (with death represented by ravens or ravenbeak-masked humans) or a stasis between the present and insistent memories of horrors witnessed in an overseas war (where birds also figure as tormentors). Director Lawrie Brewster and writer Sarah Daly – following the similarly-toned Lord of Tears – deliver an essay in PTSD delirium rather than a conventional narrative, though Gordon’s performance is intense enough to give the film a centre. For a low-budget film, it does stunningly well by its war scenes – with helicopters, gore effects and explosions – and similarly manages an earthy, threatening forest using gorgeous locations. There are naturalistic scenes of Andrew being dealt with by doctors and social workers who try to dig into why his fears take the specific form of ravens – which isn’t hard to guess, but makes for a gruesome reveal late in the day – and the wartime flashbacks have character arcs and supporting players, but for the most part we’re in the viewpoint of a man who is truly alone and Gordon has to hold the screen. A few recent British films have dealt with troubled veterans (Dead Man’s Shoes, Warhouse), but this also fits in with a revival (cf: Crow, also in FrightFest this year) of the folk horror tradition – it’s almost mandatory to use folk music on the score, and this has several versions of the melancholy, haunting ‘There Were Three Ravens Sat on a Tree’ to underline the sense of a sliding towards death or doom. It’s a demanding, complicated film which might well require repeat viewings to parse fully – but this team are doing something interesting and unusual at a budget level where it would be easier to turn out a standard slasher-in-the-woods. Extra marks for the personalised review disc.