Ravage Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Brainstorm Media
Written and directed by Teddy Grennan
2019, 77 minutes, Not Rated
Released on August 21st, 2020
Annabelle Dexter-Jones as Harper Sykes
Robert Longstreet as Ravener
Bruce Dern as Mallincrkrodt
Joshua Brady as Kinsey
Eric Nelsen as Nash
Ross Partridge as Sherriff Pendergras
Michael Weaver as Superintendent Slayton
I have a fascination with the rape-revenge subgenre of horror. That’s an eyebrow-raising way to start off a review, I know, but stay with me here. In many ways, it’s one of the most compelling types of horror film because there’s such a catharsis in the revenge aspect that you are prepared to handle the rape aspect of the story. We’re all familiar with the most infamous scenes from the rape side of the subgenre (I Spit On Your Grave, anyone?), but I’ve always felt that there’s a way to handle that side of things in a fashion that doesn’t sexualize the act while still driving the point home.
Luckily, writer/director Teddy Grennan has managed to do just that while twisting the classic rape-revenge formula in a way that raises serious questions of morality and legality. Throw in a setting and framing that both helps and hinders the narrative in Ravage (previously known as Swing Low), and the result is one of the more memorable entries to the pantheon in many years.
Harper Sykes (Annabelle Dexter-Jones; Ava’s Possessions) is a nature photographer famed for her ability to capture elusive wildlife unaware in their natural habitat. She’s resourceful, wily, and not a woman to be trifled with. When she stumbles upon a savage crime not meant for public eyes, she decides to photograph the act and take it to the local sheriff. Escaping undetected, she slips away and drives right into a trap. Before she can process the severity of the situation, she’s tied up and hanging upside down from the ceiling of a barn populated by a convention of leering good-old-boys with an axe to grind and a hunger for sadistic pain. It isn’t until they’re already busily chewing, though, that the white trash ravagers realize what they’ve actually bitten off – a woman who’s quick-thinking, stealthy, and light on her feet. Who’s really in danger here? Is this the same woman who is completely wrapped in bandages, mumbling out a story to the doubtful Superintendent Slayton (Michael Weaver; Super Troopers)?
Right out of the gate, Ravage lets you know who Harper Sykes is. She’s perfectly camouflaged, and it takes ten seconds or so of steady slow zoom for you to realize she’s even there. She’s not doing anything harmful; she’s photographing nature. Nonetheless, her introduction shot is both cinematically rewarding and effective in an expositional sense – she’s already put you on edge by doing nothing at all.
Ravage is a tricky movie to critique in many ways: The pacing is inconsistent, there are plot holes and narrative misfires (was the boyfriend really necessary at all?), and the usage of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as a white woman escapes Southern captors will ruffle various feathers. However, what’s easy to miss is that this is a film that’s far more about style versus substance than you would expect in a genre where that virtually never happens. The framing device of dislikable, skeptical, and vaguely haughty Superintendent Slayton questioning a barely-alive Harper is a wonderful way to make you genuinely question her “innocence” (whatever the hell that word would mean in this situation) and her sanity. It validates the non-linear and occasionally surreal vibe that comes through at times.
It would be good to not get hung up on the negatives in Ravage, too. If you do, you’ll miss a movie that has no qualms about unapologetically vicious violence and squirmy moments. There is no graphic rape scene, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be comfortable. Harper Sykes is a formidable protagonist who turns the inherently feminist message of rape-revenge on its ear by being straight up bloodthirsty. It’s not that you feel bad for the assholes in question; it’s that you’re often taken aback at the level of calculation and savagery in how Harper handles the hand that she’s been dealt. That bit with the campfire and the box of scavenged bullets is some next-level shit.
The score is a highlight of Ravage, powerful and timely. It fills in the spaces between action with menace and fear, jarring you into hyper-reality when necessary. That pairs seamlessly with tight cinematography for the up-close and personal scenes and a handful of sublime shots (like the aforementioned camouflage scene). Simply put, Ravage is one damn good-looking film.
Bruce Dern (The Hateful Eight, The ‘Burbs) is magnificent in his far too-brief time on screen as the decrepit patriarch Mallincrkrodt, and Robert Longstreet (Doctor Sleep) makes a wickedly enjoyable big bad guy. He’s almost charming despite the fact that he’s a cruel and monstrous predator, and he’s clearly enjoying the role. Annabelle Dexter-Jones takes the concept of a “final girl” and destroys it by simply not being a victim…and ultimately paying a price that’s so horrifying that you might have trouble with the final shot of the film.
Ravage plays a game of risk and reward by daring to ask a legitimately troublesome moral question: Does Harper go too far in her revenge when she has multiple opportunities to just get away? Then it ups the ante by giving you a monstrous act in the finish that pays off the framing device of the interrogation. The questions you were pondering at the beginning of the tale change greatly by the end, and that’s a layer not often native to rape-revenge tales.
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