Cinema Knife Fight/New Filmmakers Edition – CURSE OF THE REVENANT (2011)
Cinema Knife Fight: New Filmmakers Edition
CURSE OF THE REVENANT by Jess Solis (2011)
Review by L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: A pathway in the middle of the woods. L.L. SOARES is waiting there, wearing a hoodie.)
LS: Hello everyone. Welcome to a new series we’re doing here at Cinema Knife Fight, where Michael and I review films by new filmmakers. We won’t be doing this a lot – maybe once a month at the most – so if you’re a filmmaker and want to send us something, please query us first. We don’t have time to review a lot of films from new filmmakers, so spots are limited. But we wanted to start this new feature to give attention to movies that much otherwise fall between the cracks.
The first person to send us his movie was Jess Solis, who directed, co-wrote (and stars in) the film CURSE OF THE REVENANT (2011).
(MICHAEL ARRUDA suddenly appears from behind a tree)
MA: There you are. I was wondering why you told me to meet you here, in the middle of the woods.
LS: I thought we’d go on a little hike and review CURSE OF THE REVENANT.
MA: Okay. Why don’t you start the review?
CURSE OF THE REVENANT begins with a bearded guy with long hair walking around. We’re told in narration cards (like a silent movie) that the man’s name is Ivan (played by Jess Solis) and he has lost his wife and child in an unexplained tragedy. Feeling abandoned by God, “Ivan the Sorrowful” is forced to wander the earth. And that’s just what he does! Ivan walks and walks, and we gets lots of shots of trees and paths in the woods. At one point, Ivan pulls up the hood on his hoodie and looks an awful lot like your typical horror movie Satanist.
MA: I love silent movies, and so I was excited when this one opened up in the style of a silent movie. However, as you just said, “Ivan the Sorrowful” walks and walks and walks. For the first ten minutes of this movie, that’s all good old Ivan does. Literally.
Not the way to hook your audience, sorry to say!
LS: The camera work is fuzzy in a way that tries to look otherworldly, but I didn’t care for it.
MA: Neither did I. It was actually quite irritating.
LS: The lack of dialogue in this early section was also a minus. In something like THE CALL OF CTHULHU (2005), which tries to emulate classic silent films, this kind of stuff works with ease, partly because director Andrew Leman had such a damn good story to work with. Unfortunately, at first, CURSE OF THE REVENANT doesn’t seem to have much of a story.
MA: How right you are! The story seems to be hidden among those trees.
LS: As Ivan walks around, we are told several times that “Evil Lurks.” Something is stalking him in the woods. Ivan finds a house (“a place to sleep”) but it’s too dark to see very well. He goes inside and huddles in a corner, trying to sleep. The next day, he wakes up and goes to the beach to and stares at the water in the glare of the sunlight.
Then he goes walking in the woods again, until he comes upon a cave, and we can tell from Ivan’s body language that some unseen force (the aforementioned “lurking evil,” no doubt) takes possession of him there. He now sees everything in negative (whenever we are looking from his point of view) and there are finally voices on the soundtrack—mostly strange voices—but one clearly says “I am your master now.”
Ivan’s wandering takes him to a clearing where he watches a group of four men gather together. It looks like a rest stop. It is here, about the 24-minute mark, that things finally become somewhat normal. There’s dialogue on the soundtrack now, and the characters talk to each other (no more narration cards). Two guys, Peter (Andy Solis) and Mark (Matt Caster), are waiting for someone. Two other guys show up, one of them says he is “Mr. Ramirez, but you can call me Richard,” (an allusion to the real-life Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker killer? I don’t think so…). Richard (Frank Torres) and his “disciple” Isaiah (T.J. Gaeta) explain that they are about to go on a “Christian hike” through the woods. Peter and Mark aren’t very enthusiastic, and seem like they were forced to go along with this.
At one point, Richard separates from the others to go to the bathroom in the woods. As the guys talk, we notice that Ivan is behind a tree, watching them.
When Richard returns, the screen turns black and we hear him talk about how the others strangely disappeared. We don’t see what happens to them. There’s a dream sequence where Peter walks into an ornate, but empty, church, while Richard wanders around the woods, looking for the others. There are a few more times where the screen goes black and Richard wakes up after sleeping on the ground. He is covered in blood and disoriented. He stumbles through the woods, and at one point sees Ivan in the distance, moving toward him.
Something awful happens off-screen. Richard screams. The screen is black.
Three years later, we see Peter in his house, locking all the doors and looking nervous. He’s waiting for someone or something. Has this all been a dream? Did Peter somehow escape the horror in the woods? Is he still being stalked by Ivan? The answers might surprise you. The operative word being “might.”
MA: Then again, they might not.
LS: While I can appreciate the filmmakers’ ambition to try something different, the camera effects didn’t work for me for the most part. The fuzzy film work in the beginning, the occasional use of negative, the way the screen goes black sometimes, none of it really added much to the proceedings to me. If anything, I felt disappointed when something major was about to happen, and the screen would go black instead of showing us what was going on. This might have saved the filmmakers money, but it leaves the viewer dissatisfied.
MA: Very dissatisfied.
LS: At around 75 minutes, I thought a lot of the film could have been edited down. Scenes of people walking around in the woods go on way too long, for example.
MA: I’ll say. I thought I was watching someone’s home movies, and I have to be honest here, I kept thinking, what is the filmmaker thinking here? What’s the point of so much screen time spent simply walking? Where’s the story?
LS: Not everything in the story is coherent, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having a dream-like quality to your film can be a good thing, but it doesn’t really work here.
The script doesn’t amount to a lot, and the soundtrack is made up of mostly public domain music, including some annoying organ music in some scenes.
There were some positives, however. The scene where the four hikers first meet is pretty good; it’s the first time you feel like you’re watching real people, and I wish we could have gotten more of their time together. In fact, I wish most of the movie had been about them. There’s also a sequence toward the end called “Exorcism at the Sea” where Ivan confronts his demons, which has a couple of good images, including momentary use of color that is much too fleeting (the film is completely in black and white otherwise).
I think CURSE OF THE REVENANT would have been much more effective as a short film, maybe 20 minutes or so. It doesn’t really succeed as a feature, and there’s just too much unnecessary footage, and scenes that don’t really move the story forward. I would have been curious to see it trimmed down, to see if it worked better. In its current form, I wasn’t very excited about CURSE by the time the end credits rolled.
MA: I’ve largely held my tongue here. Look, I know this is a new film in search of promotion, and so I don’t want to badmouth it. I’d almost prefer a private email between me and the filmmaker to say these things, but then again, the film was submitted to us to review. When I review a movie, I approach it from the standpoint of a critical viewer, not a fellow fiction writer giving mentoring advice. And so, from that standpoint, I have to say the things that come to my mind as a critical viewer. In other words, if the film is out there for people to see, and they have to spend money to see it, then our job as critics is to tell people the truth about the film as we see it.
So, here’s the deal for me. The first ten minutes of this movie featured— literally—nothing more than a guy walking in the woods. It goes without saying, that the film didn’t hook me, which means I checked out long before anything else happened. As a result, I just couldn’t get into this movie.
And I found the rest of the film confusing and not very satisfying.
I’d completely re-work the beginning. One minute tops for that guy walking in the woods, and then get on with the story, and flesh it out a helluva lot more.
That’s my two cents. As it stands, I can’t recommend this movie.
LS: Not exactly the most promising start for this new column. But I sincerely hope that Jess impresses us more with his next film.
And I’m curious to see what film we review next time.
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
CURSE OF THE REVENANT
Produced and Directed by Jess Solis
Script by Jess Solis, Frank Torres and Andy Solis (Story by Jess Solis)
Cast: Jess Solis, Frank Torres, Matt Caster, Andy Solis, T.J. Gaeta
Running time: approximately one hour and 15 minutes
You can see CURSE OF THE REVENANT for yourself, now available on “Amazon Instant Video.”
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