Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Ravenous, a.k.a. Les Affames: The Undead in Quebec

The walking dead still eat flesh, but these French Canadian zombies also have a weird form of OCD that manifests itself in compulsive stacking of like objects. It actually makes them creepier. The zombie apocalypse is a grimly existential business in Robin Aubert’s The Ravenous, a.k.a. Les Affames, which premieres tomorrow on Netflix.

Nobody seems to know how it happened, but when Ravenous opens, the survivors have already moved past denial into acceptance of their situation. Those who are still alive are necessarily good at killing zombies. Nevertheless, the human death toll keeps climbing at a constant clip throughout the film. Bonin is about to lose his best friend, but he will pick up a woman and shortly thereafter a young girl, who will become a surrogate family. He is headed towards his mother’s country home, but survivors often change their plans and direction on a dime.

Bonin’s new companion Tania is “lucky” to be alive. She happened to be bitten by a dog during the zombie uprising, so everyone she meets is instantly suspicious of her. Along with little Zoé, they will head towards Bonin’s mother’s place, where he would receive a frosty reception at the best of times. Nevertheless, they will all join forces with a grimly efficient zombie killing pre-teen and a suspiciously injured old man, because you just have to forge ad-hoc alliances during the zombie apocalypse.

You have to give Aubert loads of credit. He has made a film that is thoughtful and moody as all get-out, while still embracing the conventions of the zombie movie. Unlike Rod Blakehurst’s bitterly unsatisfying Here Alone, Ravenous never comes off like it thinks it is too good to be a zombie movie. Faces get chomped here and shufflers are hacked with machetes. Seriously, Aubert accumulates a massive body-count. Yet, he is keenly attuned to the characters’ grief and mounting sense of hopelessness. In some ways, it could be dubbed the zombie equivalent of Lars Von Triers’ Melancholia.

Probably the last zombie film that had this much genuine acting going on was Train to Busan. Marc-André Grondin is probably best known as Xavier LaFlamme in the Goon movies, but he is totally unrecognizable and intensely tightly wound as Bonin. Yet, Brigitte Poupart ups the ante even further as Céline, a business woman turned zombie killing machine, who is likely to inspire a cult following and a host of mimes. Young Charlotte St-Martin is also quite impressive as little Zoé. Frankly, there really is no weak link in the multi-character ensemble.

Weirdly, Ravenous or Les Affames or whatever, brings to mind the best quote from the aughts, from Jed Babbin: “going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion. All you do is leave behind a lot of noisy baggage.” In this case, the French Canadians bring an accordion to the zombie uprising. Presumably, it represents Tania’s last link to normalcy, but it still has a randomness that fits the film’s world view. Arguably, it is both gorier and more thoughtful than the first season of The Walking Dead—its like Aubert can have his brains and eat them too. Highly recommended for zombie fans, The Ravenous starts streaming tomorrow (3/2) on Netflix.