Part zombie, part vampire and pretty much entirely awesome, The Revenant is the latest film of 2009 to contribute to making this one of the best years ever for zombie cinema. It’s the story of Bart, a typical guy with a girlfriend, a slacker best friend and the piss-poor luck to get shot to hell during a tour of duty in Iraq. Then, once his friends have had a chance to bury and mourn him, he has the (arguably) worse luck to be reanimated as a decomposing, blood-hungry member of the walking dead. From there, he seeks the aid of his best friend Joey and begins feeding on creeps and criminals, until the complications mount (as they invariably do) and things go awry for him, Joey and pretty much everyone they know.
As mentioned, Bart is a weird hybrid of zombie and vampire. His buddy uses the Internet to determine he’s a revenant — a spirit returned in corporeal form. He looks like a zombie (moldering, gross, awesome) and acts like a vampire (sleeps all day, drinks blood) but lacks most of the traditional vulnerabilities, as revealed in one hilarious scene. He’s also damn near impossible to kill — sunlight doesn’t do it, bullets are a joke and even some extreme measures result in little more than some unfortunate handicaps.
The Revenant plays out as part black-as-sin buddy comedy, part gore-fest and part action movie. There’s also an underdeveloped and slightly overwrought love story subplot and some pretty interesting (although also underdeveloped) exploration of the morality of the situation and its parallels to warfare. It’s well acted, nicely paced and well-written, with excellent dialog and a compelling story.
The film is the work of writer/director/producer D. Kerry Prior, whose only experience writing and directing is the 1996 obscurity Roadkill. Apart from that, he’s worked on the effects of several Phantasm movies, one of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, Bubba Ho-Tep and numerous other films. With that pedigree, it’s no surprise that the zombie makeup is fantastic, with lots of great wounds, copious amounts of blood and general grue.Â What’s more surprising is how well the rest of the movie is executed — Prior is a talent to watch and probably won’t have much time for effects in the years to come as he’ll be too busy directing and writing.
There are some minor complaints to be made — it’s a bit long and several of the story threads seem to be abandoned without much thought — but these barely get in the way of the overall experience of the film. You’re not going to have much time to notice the blemishes while the film is cruising along at a 100 MPH, delivering great action sequences, brutal kills and snappy one-liners, and you’re not much going to care if not every thread of the plot is full developed by the time you get to the nice little twist ending. No, you’ll be too busy laughing at the hilarious dildo-voicebox scene, wincing at the beheadings and blood-vomit and generally having a great time at the movies.
Right now, The Revenant is making the festival rounds (I saw it as part of the Denver Film Festival) but if you aren’t lucky enough to have a festival with impeccable taste in genre film in your area, keep your fingers crossed for the wider theatrical release this film so richly deserves — or just keep an eye out for it on DVD. It’s definitely worth a look, even for zombie and/or vampire purists — after all, he’s a revenant. Regardless of name, he’s zombie enough to make the cut for me, in no small part because, frankly, I love this film.