Truth, Vengeance, and the American Way: ‘The Revenant’

[18 September 2012]

By Brent McKnight

Kerry Prior has a long and illustrious career in the special effects business, working on films from The Abyss to Bubba Ho-Tep. His 2009 horror-comedy The Revenant, now available on DVD, is only his second directorial credit, and first since 1996. Heretical, gory, and foul-mouthed, The Revenant is a damn fine time. There are moments where this has a definite My Boyfriend’s Back vibe, but Prior’s film is, at its core, an undead buddy-comedy. While a solid film, and a lot of fun, The Revenant never quite lives up to its true potential. This is a movie ready made to be a future cult classic, but falls short of real greatness.

Bart Gregory (David Anders, Heroes) is a solider killed in an ambush in Iraq. Not normal insurgents, there is something off—in a sinister way—about this force. Back home, just when his friends are coming to grips with Bart’s death—and by ‘coming to grips’ I mean his best friend and girlfriend making out at his funeral—he busts out of his coffin, one of the walking undead.

Now Bart isn’t quite a zombie, and not quite a vampire. They decide he’s a revenant, one who comes back from the dead in corporeal form. Whatever he is, he has developed a serious thirst for human blood, which also happens to keep him from decaying. Bart has always been known as a man of conscience, one who believes in a definite right and wrong, so you can imagine he has some moral issues with his newfound lifestyle. Teaming up with his pill-popping, Camaro-driving best buddy, Joey (Chris Wylde, Joe Dirt), they become vigilantes, because that’s a natural choice. They find gangbangers, corrupt cops, rapists, and all manner of worthless dirt bags, and kill them so Bart can drink the blood.

Most of the comedy in The Revenant works. Anders and Wylde have fantastic chemistry, and you absolutely believe they’ve been bros for years. When the script introduces other characters into the mix, things go south, but the majority of the time is thankfully spent with Bart and Joey.

Where The Revenant runs into problems is in the structure, pace, and editing departments. Clocking in at a beefy 117-minutes, the movie is bloated and slow. It takes a full hour to get to the point where Bart and Joey become vigilantes, and while their quick back and forth can carry you forward for a while, eventually you want there to be some direction to the movie. The narrative meanders, and not only is there no clear direction, there is no direction at all. You’re don’t build towards anything, there is no arc—story wise or for the characters—and the film has no real point.

Taken as a whole, as well as broken down by individual moments, The Revenant goes on too long. The movie, scenes, and even single shots, drag on and on. As a result the pace drags, and after starting strong, things get tedious and you start to watch the clock more than the action on screen. You get it, Bart and Joey are wise asses who have spent most of their lives busting each other’s balls, but eventually you feel like you’ve been watching them for their entire lives.

Fun enough that you can forgive some of the excesses, The Revenant is still worth a look, especially for hardcore horror fans. The problem is that all the pieces are in place, and it could have been great. We could be talking about this film in the same breath as Shaun of the Dead, as an instant candidate for a long run of midnight screenings. Instead The Revenant is just an okay attempt at a horror comedy, one that certainly has some high points—like making a severed head talk using a vibrator—but middle of the road nonetheless.

The transfer on the disc isn’t great, but The Revenant looks like exactly what it is, a low-budget genre movie, shot on digital, made for a song. That isn’t meant as knock, necessarily, just a statement of fact. The film, however, could look better, but it isn’t a serious distraction.

Twelve minutes of deleted and extended scenes doesn’t seem like enough, considering how overly long the finished cut already is. They could have left out so much more. A thirteen-minute making of featurette has some decent behind-the-scenes information, but it takes this wacky, faux-serious approach that grates on your nerves so much that you want to turn it off halfway through. A gallery of stills some trailers take up some space as well.

As usual, the highlights of the bonus material are the commentary tracks, and The Revenant DVD happens to come with two. In the first Prior flies solo, while the second features a few key members of the cast. If you pick up this disc, this is where you should start, and probably finish, with the extras.

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