The point of using horror films as allegory, political or otherwise, is twofold. There are the obvious benefits of allegorizing, which allow you to disguise your intentions using coded language, cinematic or otherwise. And then there’s the genre sledgehammer, which comes down with righteous anger, coating the topic in sticky gore, surrounding it with stacks of disembodied heads, and, for those who aren’t squeamish, illuminating the filmmaker’s point of view by rendering it actively unpleasant, and therefore impossible to ignore. In this fashion, few could have predicted that one of the most vital films about our post-9/11 occupation of the Middle East would be Kerry Prior’s inventive, disgusting, and unsettling “The Revenant.”
David Anders is Bart, a soldier overseas who, in a moment of kindness and/or weakness, leaves his vehicle to be showered in bullets. You can’t keep a good man down, however, and within days after his funeral, he rises again, returning to best buddy Joey (Chris Wylde) as a decaying mess. At first it seems as if he is a zombie, though his loss of energy upon sunrise suggests otherwise. Eventually, through the advice of their Wiccan friend, they seek plasma, allowing Bart to reform himself slightly, to stop the decomposition.
This revelation is soon followed by Bart’s discovery of nigh invulnerability. The combination of bloodlust and invincibility allows Bart to target local criminals, and for Joey to live vicariously through his bullet-riddled buddy. What follows is, admittedly, quite noxious, a self-aware riff off “The Boondock Saints” that eventually finds the two united in vampiric vengeance, gunning down undesirables in shades and trench coats, living out a juvenile fantasy while cleaning up the streets as murderous vigilantes. That their embarrassing, unearned swagger irritates is exactly the point.
To discuss much more of the plot would reveal its labyrinthine twists that makes the admittedly-cheap-looking “The Revenant” seem like a runaway train at points. Prior’s directorial debut, however, has not only the same rough edges as the early films of Stuart Gordon, Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, but he also the barbed humor that kept the works from those directors from becoming spoofs. When “The Revenant” begins to spiral out of control, skewering the friendship at the heart of the film with no mercy, there’s that thrilling anything-goes feeling that used to inhabit low-budget genre efforts before they were forced into formula.
Instead, “The Revenant” builds to a conclusion that’s both absurd and played with a straight-face, taking the supernatural element back to the story’s origins, feeding the topical cycle of violence the film suggests is at the heart of all America’s military actions. Bart, in his dead-eyed hunger for plasma, has gradually become the perfect soldier, and the more post-modern (and cynical) suggestion is that he’s become aware of that before his superiors. He’s been programmed and militarized, as we all have, registering that Pavlovian response not to protect what’s “good,” but to destroy what appears to be “bad.” The dogged enthusiasm of Joey, a lesser specimen than the handsome Bart, merely emphasizes how deep this cultural illusion has gone. You don’t need a uniform to apply.
It’s clear that “The Revenant” is the product of a special effects wiz. While the film’s locations and lighting look cheap, the effects, mostly practical, are sure to please any gorehound. “The Revenant” is the film that Fangoria readers pray for — far more than just throwing blood at the screen, “The Revenant” has sights beyond your most perverse thoughts (a disembodied head powered by a sex toy being a definite highlight). It’s disgusting enough to feel lawless, like a long-lost Video Nasty from the eighties. If you’re not repulsed by the end of the film, you’re of a stronger composition than most. Actually maybe you should see less horror movies, dude.
The film doesn’t naturally profile as a comedy. It’s crude and rude at the start, and the f-bomb-laden dialogue is functional at best, an earsore at worst. But once “The Revenant” reaches it’s morbid, large-scale conclusion, it’s upsetting in all the right ways. Made with a chip on its shoulder and a generational insight that would put most Oscar bait to shame, this completely daft film deserves to be seen by anyone who remotely supports the potential of the horror genre, to frighten, to disgust and to anger. [A-]