Very excited to have Alycia Ripley back on the site with a review of Ravage. -C.S.
Several things stay with you long after watching Teddy Grennan’s Ravage, but one is for sure — you’ll never look at a cow the same way again.
Ravage is a thrill-ride plucked from the grindhouse era of the 1970s, infused with its paranoia and wilderness foes, but topped with 2020 feminism. Even its title card refers back to days of gritty revenge thrillers. Although gruesome in plot, the filmmakers maintain a rare sense of restraint that elevates the material and engages the viewer. The nastiness remains mostly off-screen and out of focus but we deal with its ramifications alongside our heroine. Regardless of Ravage‘s visual subtleties, your manicure may remain in serious jeopardy. The 84-minute runtime is a nonstop, full-throttle charge that’ll have you biting your nails and jangling your legs.
Harper Sykes is a nature photographer comfortable in the wilderness. Whether her survival skills are learned on the job or taught by family isn’t shared — when you’re chased by a group of killers after witnessing a brutal murder, there’s little time for backstory. Ravage may not re-invent the wheel but it presents its woman-in-peril story from a very different perspective. Visiting a remote valley to photograph a rare stag, Harper is in touch with only her editor and boyfriend. Unlike films in which the heroine struggles with opening a can yet progresses to expert handling of automatic weapons, we’re confident in Harper’s abilities from the get-go. We see her shark through the water in a canoe, scurry through ravines, and make smart decisions that would’ve delivered her to freedom had she not found herself in a horror movie. For the first time since 1984’s The Terminator, the local police station holds no sense of comfort or safety. It’s surreal and still and as in Ravage‘s ancestral grandfather, Deliverance, we’re unsure of who can be trusted. Harper is soon captured and brought to a nearby farm. Led by an excellent Robert Longstreet, the killers exhibit banal evil and delusional motivation. After an initial brawl-call to exhibit her might and a mercifully off-screen rape, Longstreet’s group ties Harper up and leaves her alone to complete an errand. Bad move. She uses materials at her disposal to escape and plan against her enemies. Revenge fantasy though it is, Harper is focused on survival. The valley wilderness is vast and boasts exit points the killers know well. To get out, it’ll be through rather than over them.
Calm, capable, and brave, Harper elicits our admiration and sympathy and Annabelle Dexter-Jones plays her with relatable real-girl sensibility. But lest you forget, she’s a real girl who apparently paid extra attention in Girl Scouts and 4H. We follow Harper through harrowing locations beautifully shot by Christopher Walters, and Jacques Brautbar’s cacophonous score indicates Harper’s inner state. A key moment, sure to be an audience favorite, is Harper’s interaction with an older man living in a beautiful, remote home, in need of frequent, self-administered medication. He’s played by the inimitable Bruce Dern with hypnotic ambiguity. Their entire scene plays across Dexter-Jones’ face like a light-meter. Between Dern’s words and set decoration riddled with foreshadowing, Harper recognizes that the complicated chess game she’s now in has many players and a long, long history.
Although I’ll never understand the need for film heroes to expose their knowledge and plans to the villains, our girl makes up for it with inventive elimination strategies. Opening in several cities for a drive-in experience, followed by a VOD release the following week, Ravage nails the point home that in Harper’s situation, many of us would be more up the creek, no pun intended, than we’d like to admit. Watching this smart, resourceful woman utilize her environment to her favor allows us to experience survivalism from the comforts of our cars or homes.
Ravage‘s opening audio and first glimpse of Harper walking, shotgun in tow, across a sunset landscape carries a retro aesthetic of 70s grindhouse cinema. Both then and now, women hold a certain resilience under pressure. You won’t be sure of much in Ravage—the film holds many surprises — but very little, including a cow (hold tight for the pure insanity of the third act) can keep Harper down. Some people refuse surrender with a little more force. Survival is more prescient a concept to some. Harper doesn’t just push back — she pushes over, under, and through. Stay through the entire credit sequence. The main theme is there, immortalized in its very last shot.
Girl power isn’t a catchphrase — it’s what lies in the heart of a woman who refuses to be tossed aside, digested, and forgotten by those who feel threatened by her very existence in their wilderness.