Screened on the evening of Friday 2nd March in the Glasgow Film Festival’s FrightFest strand, what was billed as the “UK premiere” of the French Canadian zombie horror The Ravenous (Les Affamés) was dampened somewhat by the awareness that the film had already been made available by Netflix earlier that morning.
Written and directed by Saint Martyrs of the Damned‘s Robin Aubert, there is little preamble before the biting and the blood and the debris of a life strewn across the road next to an overturned car, the gallows humour of two men as they stand by the funeral pyre of their former friends offering little indication this will be other than an unremarkable road trip with the undead.
The fragmentary introductions of the characters are indicative of how broken their lives have become as Bonin (Marc-André Grondin) sees his friend Vézina (Didier Lucien) lured into a trap and bitten; they were armed with guns while Céline (Brigitte Poupart) prefers to hunt with a machete, and the elderly Réal (Luc Proulx) has little more than a pointed stick until he meets teenage Ti-Cul (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier) who has already shot and buried his infected family.
With Aubert good at generating tension and jumps and bloody payoffs, the approach to old school practical effects grounds The Ravenous and there are moments of absurdity which brighten the otherwise dull ordeal, but with constant creeping around farmhouses, fields and forests there is no focus or goal to the narrative, just repeating patterns already overfamiliar from dozens of previous iterations.
The signalling between the infected recalling Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the only hint of interest is in the urge to build they display, totems similar to that in Cell but with an imperative akin to that of insects hosting the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, explored in The Girl With All the Gifts but never expanded on or developed here, The Ravenous offering only passably adequate sustenance rather than the satisfying meal required.