Andrew (Gordon) is a homeless Afghanistan veteran struggling with his life since returning from his tour of duty. His therapist gives him a chance to open up and explore his feelings at an artist’s retreat that isn’t being used for a while; she gives him the key and the directions, and implores him to dabble in the things that give him pleasure (photography and poetry) and keep a diary of his thoughts and emotions. Should he complete this and show that he’s willing to open up to her, she will be able to find him some permanent accommodation. Reluctantly, he gives it a chance.
No sooner is he there that he is faced with his worst fears: ravens. They seem to be everywhere; his irrational thoughts start taking over, and he begins to see more than just the black birds of doom.
Expanding on the folk-horror style of his debut feature, Brewster (and more so writer Daly) excels with this thoroughly absorbing tale of mental illness and fear. As the damaged squaddie, Gordon is mesmerising; he is in almost every scene (sometimes even twice) and plays the full gamut of emotions to perfection, taking the viewer on as much of an emotional rollercoaster as the character. Where his role could have deteriorated into caricature, the maturity of the writing allows the descent into complete mental breakdown appear natural. As we find out more about the soldier’s past and experiences (depicted in brutal and unflinchingly gory fashion), our sympathy might sway slightly, but ultimately, it’s a tragic situation given a mythical spin and expanded to terrifying levels.
The cinematography (by Gavin Robertson and Michael Brewster) is sumptuous. It makes the most of the remote location and not afraid to show its horrors in broad daylight. A brave decision, but certainly the right one since the mind doesn’t wait for the dark to present its fears. The Raven Warriors who manifest to torment Andrew appear to be influenced (at least visually) by the Plague Doctors of the 17th Century, but rather than just attacking as traditional movie ‘villains’ would, this malevolent presence breaks down the already fragile mental reserve of their victims. It’s an approach that makes the film all the more terrifying, since one doesn’t know when the breaking point will come and leads to a much more gripping watch.
The Unkindness of Ravens is available as a stunning deluxe Blu-ray/DVD edition direct from the filmmakers (the set also includes the sublime soundtrack CD), and is packed with extra features, which range from the obligatory trailers and behind the scenes footage (the accompanying documentary is longer than the actual feature film!) to eerie poems and a suitably creepy and atmospheric look at the legend of the Raven Warriors. The attention to detail in the presentation is incredible, and coupled with the fantastic film, makes it an essential purchase.
THE UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: LAWRIE BREWSTER / SCREENPLAY: SARAH DALY / STARRING: JAMIE SCOTT GORDON, AMANDA GILLILAND, LEON CARRINGTON, DANIEL CASEY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW