Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Some things never change... even after you're dead.

The Revenant (2009)
Director: D. Kelly Prior
Seen @: Carolina Theatre, Durham NC
Rating: 6/10

"I'm an asshole," a brash, drunk slacker named Joey states early on in this film. He's not wrong, either. His friend Bart has just been killed in a military mission in Iraq, he's making fun of a mutual friend's Wiccan beliefs, and in a few minutes he'll go on to make out with Bart's bereaved wife. Assholery is the name of the game in D. Kelly Prior's new buddy-comedy/horror film, and if there's a takeaway message, it's that not even corporeal death can extinguish it.

The Revenant has been bouncing around the festival circuit since 2009, and has recently been picked up for widespread distribution by Lionsgate. Prior has previously been involved as an effects wizard in a number of high-profile films (The Abyss, Con Air) and beloved horror franchises (Phantasm II, III and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, 4), and he picks up producing, directing, writing, and editing credits on this film. This is clearly his pet project. Don't worry though, this isn't one of those effects-guy-turned-director gore showcases (ahem, Laid to Rest). Prior shows that he's perfectly capable of writing a fully rounded screenplay and executing it pretty skillfully. Before heading to DVD this week, it got a very limited theatrical release, which is how I had a chance to check it out.

For something marketed as a comedy, this one opens on a serious note - Bart, a young soldier stationed in Iraq, is killed when he breaks protocol after a severe lapse in judgment injures a civilian child. Following his funeral several weeks later, he wakes to find that he's not quite as dead as he initially thought... Not wanting to disturb his grieving girlfriend with his semi-decomposed state, he turns to his slacker buddy Joey, who thinks that being undead is, well - kind of cool.

For the first act, character dynamics are the focus, and they work well. The characters here are all well-drawn, with the exception of Joey, whose defining trait seems to be that he can't end a sentence without saying "fuck". (I know he's supposed to be a loud jerk, but there are other, better ways to get this across.) Bart tries to figure out exactly why he's back from the dead, and his quest leads to a hilarious trip to the hospital to pick up some blood for dinner after finding out normal food won't satisfy his cravings. Slowly, he realizes that despite his thirst for blood, he is very much back in the real world. Eventually, he's going to have to deal with all the problems he left behind when he shipped out to Iraq.

Or is he? His increasing need for blood forces him to take some more extreme measures to survive, and he and Joey determine that becoming vigilantes and taking out criminals is the best way to feed Bart while simultaneously doing some good. Except that these guys are not great vigilantes. The film sort of falters here, deciding to adopt the worst parts of machismo-soaked bullshit the likes of which films such as The Boondock Saints reveled in. There's also a botched attempt to tackle racism on a level that this film is simply not prepared to handle. The result does nothing but layer on some uncomfortable overtones. (Also, while we're on the topic of discriminatory humor - Mr. Prior: fag jokes are no longer funny, thanks.)

But not all the questionable content in this part of the film is just for kicks... it's to show that Bart and Joey are the ultimate puerile slackers. Even after being offered another chance at life, they're content to waste it away chasing fantasies of vigilante herosim, drugs, and wealth. Once an asshole, always an asshole.

And here's where I give The Revenant some credit: it's not willing to let its protagonists off the hook. The plot never goes quite where you think it will. One thing remains certain though: actions have consequences. If you're going to use eternal life to act like a jerk, well, karma can be a bitch.

There's a fair amount of wit in this film, but I just wish it were more consistent. There are some truly funny moments, but there are also a significant number of flops. The plot kept me guessing, and that kept me entertained, even if I was somewhat irritated at a few of the directorial choices. Overall, The Revenant is worth a look if you're able to ignore some storytelling blips. While its detour into the vigilante justice arena isn't particularly inspired, it offers a darker-than-normal take on the asshole/buddy-comedy that eventually pays off by giving the assholes exactly what they've earned.


  1. Can't wait to see this one! Is it on VOD yet?

    1. I'm pretty sure it is. I think it hit VOD the same time it hit theaters. Netflix also has the DVD available now. It's worth checking out - I'm interested to hear what you think!