Among Ravens
"The drama is well balanced, with good chemistry between the various members on the ensemble cast and an effective counterpointing of pathos with dark humour."

Is this a story about birds, or is it just a metaphor? There are birds in it, scattered throughout; steely glances from slender corvid faces take in human events. Ravens are smart birds and they quarrel, so they have a reputation for cruelty, but is that a charge that humans are in any position to make? Out in the woods, everybody behaves according to their nature.

Joey (the exceptional Johnny Sequoyah, daughter of director Russell Friedenberg) has been taken out into the woods by her mother and stepfather for an annual reunion with their friends, who include her biological father. It's an escape for daily life so everybody is invested in making it a happy occasion. This works as long as certain lies are respected, certain conversations avoided. It doesn't work so well when a relative who wants to borrow his friend's car arranges to leave his friend there with them for a few days.

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Chad (Will McCormack) probably has Asperger's syndrome; it's never specified and consequently no-one feels any particular need to treat him with sensitivity. On the one hand he may be grateful to escape others' stereotyping; on the other, this allows a different set of assumptions to flourish, with his awkwardness and clear unwillingness to fall for bullshit triggering resentment. After an incident in the nearby lake where Joey unwittingly scares him, the others briefly speculate that he could be dangerous around children, and accept this as certainly as the later ignore the developing friendship between the two. Chad's interest in wildlife photography captivates Joey and together they explore the woods whilst the other cluster in the house, increasingly insular, self destructing.

Among Ravens is a film that relies on the untangling of secrets so it's difficult to say much more about the plot without spoilers. Wisely, Friedenberg has avoided creating two many twists but instead lets just a handful of deceptions, most of them mundane, unfold within the fevered environment of the house. At the base of it is the fact that most of these people, though habitually seeing one another as friends, just don't like each other. It's something Joey has figured out from the start, but their resistance to acknowledging it, along with their insistence on lying to her, is perplexing. The camera rises up high as she observes them like a bird, trying to make sense of a different species.

The device of the magical stranger calling the familiar into question is hardly a new one but the romanticisation of Chad is less problematic given that we're seeing him through a child's eyes. The drama is well balanced, with good chemistry between the various members on the ensemble cast and an effective counterpointing of pathos with dark humour. The result is a rich and enjoyable film which showcases the talents of all concerned.

Reviewed on: 24 Jan 2016
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The introduction of a stranger to an annual gathering of friends and family throws strained relationships into sharp relief.

Director: Russell Friedenberg, Randy Redroad

Writer: Russell Friedenberg

Starring: Johnny Sequoyah, Will McCormack, Christian Campbell, Amy Smart, Vinnie Duyck, Natalie Imbruglia, Russell Friedenberg, Joshua Leonard, Castille Landon

Year: 2014

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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