Skill, talent, luck: awesomeness in any measure can brought to nothing by timing – just ask Wile E. Coyote. My grandfather, a chef of extraordinary skill sunk his life savings into opening his own restaurant. Too bad he had to open his Japanese steak the Saturday before Pearl Harbor was attacked. Ironically, my family spent the remainder of the war so poor they could afford to eat nothing but ramen. Beggared, my grandfather had no choice but to turn to a life of Mad Science.
My grandfather’s story reminds me of the movie The Revenant, another victim of timing. This little independently produced film had the unfortunate luck of hitting the festival circuit the same year that Zombieland came out and seemingly torpedoed any chance of a theatrical release for any zombie movie not named Zombieland. This is a shame. There were several good zombie movies that year: Survival of the Dead*, Pontypool, ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction, La Horde, [Rec]2, Dead Snow, Deadgirl, Zone of the Dead, Dead Air and Autumn. There was a bumper crop of zombies that year. I would have happily forked over the cash to buy a ticket to any of these movies (Especially matinee seats. I’m cheap). That goes double for The Revenant.
Recently The Revenant has finished the festival shuffle to finally get a release on DVD (at least in the UK).
I live in the Great Plains; though I live in a sizable city, being in the Midwest, we don’t get much in the way of culture. Monster trucks? Yes! Indie monster movies? Not so much. I have to wait for independent films like The Revenant to either get a DVD release or hit Netflix. It’s endlessly irksome to me; the local multiplexes show an endless stream of samey wide release dreck. For horror we get Final Destination Nth or Saw Part Whatever in 3D; while truly good movies like I Sell the Dead or The Revenant languish.
Enough grousing, let’s talk about the movie. The Revenant is an apt title. The revenant here isn’t a zombie in the George Romero vein. He’s got all his mental faculties as opposed to being a mindless automaton. He doesn’t eat human flesh. The only quality he shares with the run-of-the-mill movie zombie is that he is dead and a bit decayed.
The Revenant is less a horror film and more a very dark situation comedy. I think it was a little ahead of the curve in regard to the rest of the zombie genre. Instead of focusing on a global apocalypse or a plague, The Revenant confines itself to the experience of one guy. The standard theme of survivors self-destructing in the face of adversity is absent. Here, the undead is the survivor. The only other movie I can think of that explored this idea was the super low budget UK zombie film Colin. Ostensibly a zombie movie, The Revenant’s main themes fall more along the lines of a reluctant vampire story sprinkled with generous doses of Toxic Avenger (minus the poop jokes).
The story in a nutshell: Bart (David Anders) is good guy, a fact that gets established in the opening scene, but that isn’t going to be enough to stop him from getting killed. His friends and loved ones mourn his passing—until he returns from the dead.
Rotting and gross, he makes his way back to the apartment he shares with his best friend Joey (Chris Wylde). Together they try to figure out what happened to Bart and how to manage his peculiar condition. The result is a weird parable about how a good man with the best of intentions might become evil and ultimately embrace his inner monster.
The Revenant is largely carried by David Anders and Chris Wylde (the latter reminds me a bit of Steve Buscemi). There is a strong but flawed friendship between Bart and Joey. They both have and light and dark sides to their personalities, though in very different ways. The contrast between the two men grows stronger as the story unfolds with horrific and entertaining results. I gotta say, I really couldn’t imagine any two other actors playing the roles of Bart and Joey. They are like an evil Abbott and Costello.
Writer-Director Kerry Prior should be lauded for his efforts here. The Revenant is one of the more entertaining films I’ve seen in the last few years. The small budget he had with which to work doesn’t show up in the final product, which looks polished and slick. Go buy a copy as soon as you can.
*I go on a total rant here about Survival of the Dead. Pack a lunch!