Triple Six Festival has shown us some real gems so far, but The Unkindness of Ravens blend of psychological horror and gory, hallucination-filled storyline was a particular stand out.
Directed by Scottish indie filmmaker, Lawrie Brewster, who’s on hand to introduce the film along with lead actor Jamie Scott Gordon; both of whom also step up to entertain the crowd while the projection team fix some technical issues partway into the film. Brewster and Gordon have created a gripping horror that works as an “exploration of an ex-soldier coming to terms with what happened to him back in his time in the army” that often feels like the greatest hits of psychological horror.
The film splits into two distinct styles between it’s first and second halves: the first is very much a psychological horror; with the second half closer to Hellraiser, with some gory torture scenes to match. In the director’s own words “From the middle point it goes really fucking mental”, which is certainly true, we’re talking large desert landscapes with ancient towering landmarks. It includes “tortured souls” trapped as slaves to an army of ‘entities’, that may well all be vivid hallucinations of the protagonist’s broken mental state. It’s the films early, eerier scenes that stayed with my after the screening, rather than the gore of the movie’s second half, and the film covering such different aspects of horror will attract as many viewers as it may put off.
One wide shot, in particular of the moorland that gives us our first real look at our ‘monster’ in all it’s horrifying glory, matching its slow advancement with the relenting sound of a whistle played throughout. These tense shots are particularly harrowing, and they’re the main source of terror in the film’s first half. Well minus a particular window breaking that caught me a little off guard and had me asking the gentleman next to me in the cinema if he could pass me my pen back…
The design of The Unkindness of Ravens creatures is an impressive feat, a mixture of a seventeenth/eighteenth century plague doctor and a medieval knight. In fact, the practical effects throughout the film are brilliantly realistic. The same sadly can’t be said for scenes in which the film mixes its real world setting with CGI, which was the only real time I felt detached from the movie’s world. Scenes set entirely in a CGI setting worked fine, although, by the point in the film where they’re primarily used, the film focuses more on a sense of wonder, than fear, and making the scenes feel realistic is less important to its narrative.
Aside from Brewster as director, Jamie Scott Gordon is a draw in himself. Starting strong, the actor dominates the screen wonderfully after coming face to face with his doppelganger. His performance genuinely makes you care for the truly awful situations we see his character met with, and as his doppelganger, he’s often as eerie as the film’s more monstrous non-human horrors. That is if the doppelganger is human at all, or even real.
If you can’t tell, I’m still deciding just what each scene in The Unkindness of Ravens actually stands for. It’s a fun side to the viewing experience, as you spend your time deciding whether the entire film takes place in a mentally ill man’s psyche, or if there really is a horde of terrifying transforming creatures coming to claim his soul. It also extends to particular scenes, one for example that separates the first and second halves of the movies I read as symbolic of his constant struggle to overcome the events the character had witnessed, which could never just be cured, merely dealt with for the rest of his life. Other viewers will take the scene at its face value.
Either way, The Unkindness of Ravens was one of the most impressive films I had the pleasure of catching at Triple Six Festival. Not only is it an enjoyable watch while you’re sat in the cinema, but it also stays with you, and has you dissect what you’ve seen. Where other films are happy to entertain you for a matter of hours, The Unkindness of Ravens manages to do so for days.