Filmed in 2014 on a shoestring budget, The Unkindness of Ravens went into post-production in 2015 and raised money via a Kickstarter campaign to help put the finishing touches on the film. The campaign went on to earn £44,039 (roughly $56,330.28 in U.S. dollars) from 635 backers, making it the highest-funded British horror film on Kickstarter. You wouldn’t guess that the film had such a small budget just by looking at it though. While the cast is small and the majority of the film takes place in one location, it looks fantastic. Filmed with a competent hand and featuring a mesmerizing lead performance, The Unkindness of Ravens is one of the stronger independent horror films to come out in the past few years.
Directed by Lawrie Brewster (Lord of Tears, our review), the majority of the film follows Andrew (Jamie Scott Gordon) a homeless war veteran who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time spent in Afghanistan. Something from his time there is causing him to have nightmares and hallucinations of violent humanoid creatures called the Raven Warriors. At the recommendation of his therapist Angela (Amanda Gilliland), he relocates to an isolated retreat in the Scottish Highlands to face his fears and his past. While there, his hallucinations become more frequent as the line between reality and illusion becomes more and more blurred.
Sarah Daly’s script is minimal in scope, but it handles the difficult topic of PTSD with the appropriate amount of sensitivity. The audience is put in the mind of Andrew, which is a harrowing experience. Brewster directs the film with gusto, channeling Andrew’s fragmented mental state into the camera and instilling as much of his paranoia into the audience. Much of the film’s success is owed to Gordon, who is tasked with playing the fragile Andrew as well as his malicious doppelganger that frequently pops up to taunt him and discourage him from his journey. The film is worth a watch for his performance alone.
In creating the nightmare sequences, it is clear that Brewster took a lot of inspiration from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. As a matter of fact, one sound cue that occurs regularly in The Unkindness of Ravens is nearly an exact replica of one often used in that film. Craven’s film’s influence is never more apparent than one particular moment when one of the Raven Warrior appears in front of Andrew with a hand (talon?) sporting knives for fingers. Rest assured that Brewster is merely paying homage to Craven as opposed to ripping him off. He includes several of his own deft touches, including some gorgeous visuals and haunting tableaux. There isn’t much to the plot of the film, but it sure is filmed beautifully.
Much of the imagery in The Unkindness of Ravens is truly nightmarish. Brewster and Daly gradually build up the intensity of the hallucinations, culminating in a grand finale that isn’t for the squeamish. As flashbacks to Andrew’s time in the war slowly begin to fill in the pieces of his past, the shocking imagery becomes more and more prevalent (you will have had your fill of gouged out eyeballs by the time the credits roll). For having such a small budget, the film is able to get by with some rather impressive gore effects. This is a ferocious film, and it is certainly not for the squeamish.
**The next paragraph contains what some may consider to be spoilers, so I will white it out. I don’t consider it a spoiler since the film makes this plot point fairly obvious, but I have to discuss it since it is one of the flaws I found in the film. Highlight it to read it.**
As impressive as the nightmare sequences and gore effects are, there is unfortunately never any real tension present throughout the film. We know that Andrew is suffering from PTSD and the film makes it obvious that nothing he is seeing his real. Had Daly played more with the idea of what is real versus what isn’t, the film might have been more effective. As it stands the film is simply a glimpse into the fractured mind of a man with PTSD as the audience watches him face his personal demons. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does reduce the stakes significantly since Andrew’s life is never actually in danger from anyone except from himself.
The pace of the film is also too slow at times. Even at a scant 85 minutes, the film does drag a bit as Andrew’s hallucinations become more and more repetitive. It doesn’t hurt the viewing experience too much, but more impatient viewers will be checking the time before the third act. Luckily, the third act is well worth the wait so the pacing issues are more forgivable in hindsight.
Overall The Unkindness of Ravens is a strong sophomore effort from Brewster and certainly worth a watch. It will be interesting to see what he is able to do when given a sizable budget.
The Unkindnessof Ravens is currently available on Amazon Video.