- Monthly Theme: Indie Horror
- The Film: The Revenant
- Country of origin: U.S.A.
- Date of U.S. release: August 24, 2012
- Studio: Putrefactory
- Distributer: Paladin
- Domestic Gross: ?
- Budget: ?
- Director: D. Kerry Prior
- Producers: Don Dunn, et al.
- Screenwriter: D. Kerry Prior
- Adaptation? No.
- Cinematographer: Peter Hawkins
- Make-Up/FX: Paul Staples, Jason Collins, Amy Mills, et al.
- Music: ?
- Part of a series? No.
- Remakes? No.
- Genre Icons in the cast? No.
- Other notables?: Yes. TV star David Anders.
- Awards?: Honorable Mention at the Louisville Fright Night Film Fest. 4 awards at the New York City Horror Film Festival. Best Make-Up and Best Special Effects at the 2009 Screamfest.
- Tagline: “Keeping the streets of L.A. safe for the undead.”
- The Lowdown: The Revenant is the feature directorial debut of special effects guy Kerry Prior. The movie’s about Bart, an American G.I. killed in Iraq (played by Alias/Vampire Diaries baddie David Anders) who inexplicably re-animates once his body has been shipped home for burial. Bart seeks out his slacker best friend Joey (scene-stealer Chris Wylde) to help him cope with his new undead state, while dodging advances from his former flame Janet (Louise Griffiths). Joey and Bart figure out that Bart must drink the blood of the living in order to halt the decomposition process, and become unwitting vigilante heroes after they begin targeting petty criminals as Bart’s blood supply. An effective blending of slacker comedy, superhero, zombie, vampire, splatter and techno-thriller elements, The Revenant is an ambitious little movie that builds to a nihilistic and bizarre conclusion. Kristine and I sat down to discuss the movie’s “meta” nature, the many subgenres it riffs on, the bromance at the center of the movie and much more.
If you haven’t seen The Revenant our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.
Sean: Shall we discuss The Revenant and leave franchise month far behind?
Kristine: Yes, please. I didn’t realize this movie came out, like, yesterday.
Sean: Yeah, it came out on DVD in 2012.
Kristine: Was the reception to the movie positive? Was it widely seen? My roommate and I both hadn’t heard of it.
Sean: This movie was made and played at many horror festivals in 2009 and it was rapturously received at those festivals, but they still couldn’t get a distributor. Then it received a very, very limited theatrical release in 2012 and went straight to DVD after that. It never had a real theatrical run outside of the horror festival circuit. P.S., this happens a lot with indie horror movies.
Kristine: Ah, okay.
Sean: So my capsule definition of this movie is: Judd Apatow meets Re-Animator. Would you agree?
Kristine: I would agree… except, maybe a tad less hip than Apatow and a tad more nerd boy. I say that because there were too many catch phrases and not enough snark to be full-on Apatow.
Sean: What do you mean, “catch phrases”?
Kristine: Shit, I didn’t write any down.
Kristine: There were just so many lines that I could see nerd boys chanting in the theatre.
Sean: I don’t remember there being any “catch phrases,” for real. But I’m going to assume you mean, like, zingy one-liners? And if that’s what you mean, then I would argue that zingy one-liners are totally Apatovian through and through. I mean, “Schmaschmorshion”?
Kristine: I guess my reaction to this movie is that it has some really smart elements, but a lot of sophomoric, dude-bro humor. Weirdly, the vibrator/voice box scene that probably could be considered the most sophomoric/college humor was the one I found to be unbelievably hilarious. If you had told me about that scene and I hadn’t seen the movie? My eyeballs would have been rolling into the back of my head. I also thought Joey’s monologue was hilarious (“You gotta get outta here before they come and do a Daniel Pearl on your ass, too”). And the vibrator scene was a total shout-out to Re-Animator, am I right?
Sean: Yes. And I love the vibrator scene also. I think this movie could easily be (and has been) accused of being sort of homophobic, exactly because of the “dude-bro” elements to the humor you pointed out. But I would point to that vibrator scene as evidence that Prior knows how homoerotic “dudebro” buddy comedies are, and is satirizing the hell out them. I feel like the movie is very meta and knowing about many subgenres of film, one of the primary ones being the “buddy comedy”…
Kristine: I agree with that read.
Sean: The movie paints the Bart/Joey relationship as homoerotic in a way that’s very much in keeping with classic (and less self-aware) buddy pictures. When Bart drinks dying Joey’s blood in order to “save” him? It is framed in a shot that looks very much like he’s leaning over to give Joey a blowjob. Later, when Mathilda realizes Joey is now also a revenant she says, “You sucked your best friend’s blood?” Bart replies, “It’s not like that.” The movie knowingly and winkingly plays around with the homoeroticism of the buddy comedy, re-staging it so that all the queerness is right there on the surface. Subtext becomes text.
Kristine: I would apply the same critique to the ridiculous racial stereotypes in this movie. Clearly Prior knows what he is doing and is going over the top to make a point about trashy horror films… It reminded me of the evil ethnic gangbangers who try and rape the blind girl in The Toxic Avenger. Am I blowing your mind with my off-the-charts horror movie references?
Sean: Total mindblow. But yeah The Revenant’s handling of race is… inappropriate, but also very meta. Like the scene where the black stick-up guy quotes Franz Fanon?
Sean: He was Do the Right Thing on mescaline. I think the movie gets away with more antics vis-à-vis race because the movie itself openly addresses the subject of race with things like that Fanon-quoting speech. And can I also state how relieved I was when the Asian guy dressed in the cowboy fringe spoke in plain English, not broken “Engrish.” But the gangbanger’s polemic on race was also a moment when I could see people rolling their eyes and being like “this is hipster horror.” But I loved all that and I genuinely think this movie is hilarious.
Kristine: Explain what you think is so “hipster” about it. But first, do you agree with my Toxic Avenger point?
Sean: Um… I can see it. I feel like Troma humor is such gutter-humor. I think The Revenant’s script betrays the intelligence of Kerry Prior, the director/writer (like the Daniel Pearl and Fanon/Farrakhan references, or when the nurse at the blood bank tries to convert Bart to Scientology). That’s what I mean, also, by “hipster horror.” Prior’s script is knowing and meta and, in some ways, almost Tarantino-esque. So I guess I don’t feel like the humor in this movie is on the Troma-bathroom-level, despite the vibrators and long sequences of puking black sludge.
Kristine: Right. Was this his first feature?
Sean: Yes. This is a total freshman feature and for a first film, even though it’s messy and imperfect, I think it’s a pretty fucking amazing achievement.
Kristine: I would agree with that.
Sean: What did you make of Chris Wylde, the actor who played Joey?
Kristine: God, he was unattractive. Shudder. Like, he was cuter as a rotting zombie. But he was funny and reminded me of Mike White, in appearance and demeanor.
Sean: I think he’s sort of amazing. His reaction when Bart first knocks on his front door was hilarious (“Who the fuck is that?”). Making a horror-comedy seems to me to be a really tricky proposition – the actors have to play the movie “straight” and give believable (rather than knowing or winking) performances while still being funny. Chris Wylde really nails that balance.
Kristine: What did you make of Mathilda, the cunty Wiccan?
Sean: Matty was… good. I liked the role she played in the story. I thought the whole Wiccan thing was ridic but not played for too many laughs. What did you make of Mathilda?
Kristine: I think that the way the movie employed her character was very canny. My only “concern” is I don’t think everyone watching this will get the satire… I think some geekboys will accept Mathilda and Janet at face value, even though they are so obviously satirical takes on stock characters.
Sean: One of the things I like most about this movie is how dark it becomes in the last act. Mathilda’s role in the early part of the movie made me think that the movie would be more lighthearted than it actually winds up being. Matty’s whole flat-affect delivery of lines like, “Cut off his head. He’s a creature of the night” made me crack up. But I sort of think the bleakness of the last act (and especially the denouement, which we can talk about later) is brilliant and amazing. But yes, the female characters in this movie are completely stock and that’s intentional. Prior’s definitely playing around with tropes (remember, this is a buddy comedy first and foremost, and the female characters are tropes from that universe). And that meta-ness is part of what makes me label it “hipster.” It could easily be read as too ironic and self-referential, you know?
Kristine: Well, I get that. But do you see my point that not all audiences (like sexist, horny nerd-boy audiences) will get it? Or do you think that it’s so over-the-top that they have to?
Sean: I think faulting a movie for some perceived lack of intelligence in its potential audience is… something. I mean, are you implying that horror audiences are not as “sophisticated” as other kinds of audiences?
Kristine: Whoa whoa whoa. I am not faulting the movie. Sorry if it seemed that way. I am just curious about what the average (and also the sub-average) horror audience would think about the Janet and Matty characters.
Sean: I do agree with you that the audience for this movie is more educated, more culturally savvy than the audience for your average direct-to-DVD slasher fare. Again, this is why I think some people could find this movie too knowing and too pleased with itself (and thus label it “hipster horror”).
Kristine: Maybe you’re right. Maybe I still hold some negative connotations about horror movie fans. Mea culpa.
Sean: I see this movie as being on par with things like the show Archer. Do you know that show?
Kristine: I do not, not at all.
Sean: Well then, things like Adult Swim cartoon programming. Do you feel me?
Kristine: I absolutely agree with that.
Sean: Right – so the idea is that The Revenant works on two levels – as deconstructionist satire, but also as kind of dudebroish comedy.
Kristine: You know who would love this movie and who is a fan of all this kind of stuff?
Sean: Your dad?
Sean: You should urge him to watch this movie before reading our conversation, so he gets an un-spoiled experience.
Kristine: Okay, I’ll email him tonight. You know he’ll go rent it. I think he will adore the movie.
Sean: So I guess the reason why I like this movie so much, and picked it for the blog, is how inventive it is with genre tropes and also how batshit crazy the last ten minutes get. I am just curious if where the movie went and how it unfolded surprised you… Or if it seemed to follow genre tropes to predictable ends. Like, for instance, the switch into the almost comic book superhero vigilante second act and then the crazy mass murder and government/war motifs of the last act.
Kristine: The vigilante/superhero section of the movie delighted me and was a pleasant surprise.
Sean: Wow, I thought you were going to say you hated the superhero section.
Kristine: No, I really liked it. But the government/war motif that took over the third act and the dark ending, not so much. As we’ve discussed (with Resident Evil and other films) the paramilitary/corporate conspiracy stuff is an almost unavoidable part of recent cinema and it just doesn’t do it for me. I mean, I get it. I see how its all a result of some larger psychological process going on with the culture – that we have this huge collective cultural injury from the Iraq War, and it is constantly finding new ways to be expressed. Speaking of that, I found the opening scene to be quite scary.
Sean: Oh cool. I forgot that that opening plays like straight horror and isn’t as tounge-in-cheek as the rest of the movie… That weird baby?
Kristine: Yeah. That baby was… wow. It totally fucking scared me. And when Bart gets out of the truck? I was legitimately scared.
Sean: Let’s talk about the baby for a second. For me, the part of the movie that both troubles me the most ideologically but also makes me respect the movie’s cajones is how the zombie “plague” or whatever it is seems to come from “the Other” – in this case, the Iraqis in the desert at the beginning. I was wondering if you found that weirdly racial. Is he “infected” by the uncanny Arabs? Or is Bart’s reanimation meant to be some metaphysical response to the horrors of war and have nothing to do with the insurgents in the desert?
Kristine: Okay, forgive me but I might need some clarification on plot points… I mean, all the victims in the weird military/corporate lab at the end of the movie weren’t soliders, correct? Are we sure that the zombification is only happening in Iraq? I was unclear on that. And are they sending the zombies back over to Iraq just to get rid of the menace here, or are they sending them over as weapons? My take on the baby was that it was real… That it was a human baby being used as bait in a raid on the soldiers… Am I dumb?
Sean: Oh. Not dumb…. But I do feel like maybe you misread the ending of the movie a bit. So that army base scene, where Bart is imprisoned in the glass case?
Sean: Those are all people who have become zombies because of Bart. He’s the one who brings the “plague” back with him. Remember they call him “Alpha Infection Subject”? My understanding is that’s just military techno-jargon for “Patient Zero.”
Kristine: Oh. Fuck. Umm, I completely missed that. My cat must have been doing something adorable.
Sean: I just want to add that the military brass who are viewing the imprisoned zombies in that scene mutter things like, “This is completely new… or completely ancient.” Which adds to my theory that we’re meant to see this plague as coming from the Iraqis and from the Middle East, this ancient part of the world. But that ending, where they’ve released all the zombies in canisters? That’s in Iran, not Iraq.
Kristine: Okay, thank you. That’s much different than what I was thinking.
Sean: I think the idea is, America is bent on totally eradicating our enemies in the Middle East with zombies…. We’re broadening the scope of our military activity in the region beyond Iraq.
Sean: But also, the plague is sort of returning to its regional “home” because I think that, according to the movie, this “started” in the Iraqi desert in that opening scene.
Kristine: Right. But… we don’t know what started it. It could be weird chemicals the U.S. has released there, or anything.
Sean: Yes, the “reason” why Bart comes back to life is never explained clearly and is thus open to interpretation. But I feel like it is strongly linked to the strange figures in the desert that night and that weird, uncanny baby.
Kristine: Yes, I agree… But I still think they’re just military insurgents that attack Bart’s convoy in the opening scene. Like, I don’t think those people are revenants that zombify Bart. In my mind – and this might be a little goofy and airy fairy – is that the hatred and pain in that particular spot, and felt by those people, is what infected him. My second theory is that it is fallout from crazy chemical warfare. Do you think I am a wicked hippie?
Sean: No, you’re not a hippie. In fact, I think that is the other most plausible reading: That “war” itself causes the uncanny plague. That Bart’s reanimation is just a response to the trauma of war.
Kristine: Really? Did you have that thought?
Sean: Yes. I said it before. Can I mount a brief defense of the ending of the movie?
Kristine: Please do.
Sean: Every once in a great while, I see a movie that makes me fall in love with the horror genre all over again and this movie did that for me because of that ending… You know, we’ve got these storytelling conventions that apply across genres, especially in regards to the “hero” of the story. There are just certain things that we have all collectively agreed upon in storytelling, and mostly storytellers stick to those beats. Even in “art” or “independent” cinema, the same conventions apply (usually just with different tonal shadings). In my opinion, there are very few films that truly challenge or break those conventions. But horror, as a genre, is a place where sometimes those conventions are really fucked with and dismissed. Horror movies allow for really weird discursive breaks from those conventions. The ending to The Revenant is so fucking bleak. And I get that the movie, ultimately, is framed as a tragedy – but even then the hero doesn’t get his tragic death (á la Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, etc.) The Revenant denies the tragic hero his tragic death. Where else but in a horror movie could the hero of the piece be like, discarded in the deserts of a foreign land by his own government, by the military that he had been a part of at the beginning of the piece, stripped of all his loved ones, to wander indefinitely in a hellish war zone? I just really can’t get over what a harsh, bleak ending that is – especially for a movie that played like a gonzo comedy for most of its running time.
Kristine: It is, I totally agree. It’s so fucked that he gets transformed into this creature, and he is still the slave of the military. You so want him to break out of his prison in that military base and destroy them all, for what they did to him and for all the victims of the war. And the opposite happens. He’s still their killing tool. Fuck.
Sean: Right. I mean, this movie is pretty merciless with the fate of its characters, without feeling sadistic. Quite the opposite – the movie commits itself to playing out the arcs of its characters based on their own decisions. And the story structure itself is really unconventional. This is the kind of movie that makes me feel really excited by the possibilities of storytelling, and that there are people out there willing to bend, break, fuck with and reinvent the rules. Very, very few storytellers are willing to do that (especially “pop” storytellers). Maybe that’s why this movie took almost 4 years to get distributed? If so, that’s a sad comment on the marketplace.
Kristine: You are making me like it and think a lot more about it… To be honest with you, when I watched it I thought it was good, but I wasn’t that affected or blown away by it. Now I am wondering if I was super-distracted, since I missed some pretty major plot points.
Sean: I will say that whole reason I chose this as our first movie this month was because, to me, it is the polar opposite of the “franchise” movies from last month, which follow very tired and old formulas and are not inventive at all. I thought you’d watch this and be like “what a breath of fresh air I loved it.” After Resident Evil and the rest.
Kristine: Okay, Sean, I just did a thing that you probably will hate, but I would like to bring it into the discussion.
Kristine: I wanted to find an image of the ghoulish road baby, and Google took me to the movie’s Facebook page and this discussion:
Caroline Mansfield: I do have a question though. In the beginning, when the baby is in the road as bait… is it a revenant? Is it the original? It looks ghoulish. Alsooo… was it planted there by US military to begin with? As part of the super-evil super-soldier creation experiment?
The Revenant: Re: the “baby” in the opening; yes, the idea is that that is a revenant baby, although not the first one–it was put there as a ploy to stop the truck by other revenants to predicate the ambush. Apparently this was an actual tactic used by insurgents in Iraq.
Sean: I do hate this.
Kristine: Even though that is the official word, I stick by our reading. But I think it is interesting.
Sean: Well, but this just confirms that the zombie “plague” comes from insurgents/anti-Americans.
Kristine: Yeah, but if he is Patient Zero… how can there be other, earlier, Revenants? Can I just say I love the word “revenant” and I think the title is very awesome and perfect?
Sean: He is Patient Zero in America. The military officials are only discussing the outbreak on a local scale in that final scene, not on a global scale. They don’t know what the hell is going on in Iraq.
Kristine: Okay, I see. I want to watch that opening scene again and get a better look at the insurgents.
Sean: Well but that response indicates the filmmakers intended this to be about how returning soldiers are “infected” by being in this foreign place and they bring that infection home with them.
Kristine: Yes, totally, and I love that read and it is so 100% true.
Sean: Right… but I do think there’s a bit of cultural xenophobia/racism mixed up in that….
Kristine: I heard something about how the suicide stats for returning vets are totally skewed because they do not count soldiers who were in the war but were discharged. They only tally suicides for people still in the armed services. And what about the horror inflicted on families of soldiers… this is why Janet is necessary, right? To show the self-sacrificing mate who is destroyed by her partner when he comes home from combat?
Sean: Yeah. I think that’s right. Janet is a total plot device. But I didn’t like all the “I fucked Janet” stuff.
Kristine: She was the worst aspect of the movie for me (as a character, and as an actress) even though I “get” her function…
Sean: Yeah. It was gross – they never round her out enough and its too easy to project all kinds of misogynistic aggression onto her.
Sean: Thank god Matty is even in the movie, because she balances that out a bit. But just a bit.
Kristine: Absolutely. I read the “I fucked Janet” thing two ways. One, I think Joey is way less hot for Janet than he is in love with Bart, right? Bart is the good-looking war hero. And fucking Janet is his way of being like Bart. And he was also taunting Bart with that to get him to kill him, right?
Sean: Sure… I mean it is pretty clear that despite Janet’s existence, being dead has totally “queered” Bart. He’d rather hang out with Joey now, he truly has little to no interest in the heterosexual love affair that Janet represents. That’s why I love Miguel’s rant about “Are you here for some Mexican pussy?” because nothing could be further from the truth.
Sean: At the end when Joey wants Bart to run away with him, he uses some convoluted heterosexual logic of “we’ll fuck showgirls in Vegas” and I literally laughed and yelled “Yeah right!” at the tv.
Kristine: I also thought the sucking on Miguel’s head was wicked sexual.
Sean: Bart feeding on corpses was so queer.
Sean: But the movie itself is totally in on that joke… Hence the vibrator bit.
Kristine: Agreed. “Where did you get that? Your purse??” Hee hee. That scene was so good.
Sean: Yeah. And a great homage to Re-Animator as you pointed out.
Sean: So can we wrap up with the buddy action/superhero section?
Sean: I’m wondering why you loved it. I thought you’d hate.
Kristine: Sean, have you not learned you can never predict my tastes?
Sean: You’d think. Is that because I’m a dummy who doesn’t really know you, or that you are a creature of whims and fancies?
Kristine: You are neither a dummy nor am I some flighty sprite. I am a complicated, unpredictable woman who can not be typecast. This is going to sound ridic because it’s two zombified buddies going on a vigilante spree… but I think I loved it because it felt real to me. Like, given the insane scenario, this is what these two dudes would do.
Sean: All the cocaine usage?
Sean: I loved that detail.
Kristine: Duh. Yes, I liked it too. Wouldn’t you?
Sean: Um, hell yes. I also really dug how Miguel reappeared as a kind of “supervillain” at the beginning of the third act. Complete with no eyelids…
Kristine: I also loved the “overkill” scene. That’s been done before, but these two guys made it really funny.
Kristine: Oh, when they are shooting each other over and over again. It was cute and funny.
Sean: Oh right. Yeah, I loved that too. This movie comments on many, many subgenres of cinema and that was a total riff on action movie/gangster realness.
Kristine: It really does do a lot of meta-commenting. I have to say, our discussion has definitely made me respect this movie more. I really needed discussion to work through my thoughts. It sucks that I was so distracted during the ending. Let this be a lesson to me.
Sean: “Distracted” is code for what here? A kitty circus?
Kristine: Something. I can’t remember.
Sean: I am imagining you: (a) Reading Vanity Fair (b) painting your toenails and (c) talking on the phone to your sister while the movie plays sadly in the background.
Kristine: Shut up, no. So I have a couple questions about the making of the film. Is Prior a gay?
Sean: I’m pretty sure no but I would have to research to really answer.
Kristine: IMDB says he is a special effects guy. He worked on… ugh! The Phantasm movies.
Sean: Go him. As far as I know, he hasn’t made another movie. I can’t wait for him to make another feature.
Kristine: Well, I hope he does, too. And I will pay attention to it.
Kristine: Don’t you want me to be honest? Sometimes life happens and people are distracted and that does inform how they read a movie. Last thoughts. I truly was shocked by 1. the ghoul baby 2. the full-frontal male nudity at the end 3. how fucking funny and delightful the dildo voicebox was.
Sean: Yay for cock!
The Girl’s Rating: Sleazesterpeice! and so much more.
The Freak’s Rating: Masterpiece!