Les Affames: French Canadian zombie thriller had its world premiere at TIFF
Robin Aubert’s Les Affames (Ravenous) is yet another in a long, long, LONG line of contemporary zombie apocalypse movies where people wander the pretty rural countryside trying to survive while cannibal corpses mull around looking for human snacks. But the big difference here is that Les Affames is directed by Aubert, a talented, visionary French Canadian filmmaker who with his maiden voyage into full-blown horror, manages to tread familiar ground (literally) while slowly, surely morphing his narrative into something more bizarre and even cerebral. This is eccentric ghoul cinema, the sort that the late, great George A. Romero used to make.
Which is not to say that Aubert’s zombies are the stumbling, pie-eyed dead of Romero’s picture. No, these bloodthirsty beasts are spastic, screaming, running, leaping maniacs who stand dormant until they hear and see movement and then are activated. But the film itself feels Romero-esque, with ample dark humor, eccentric characters and thoughtful, sometimes metaphysical dialogue. The movie feels real and lived-in, not forced and it doesn’t rely on cheap shocks (although there are a few) to sell its scares.
In a small, remote rural Quebec village, a virus has broken out and has spread to the cities, turning its victims into flesh-gnawing, red-eyed, living dead monsters. In the startling opening at a local racetrack, we see the outbreak begin and then Aubert drags us into the idyllic countryside where, one by one we meet our heroes. They’re the usual suspects, the mournful husband who has to kill his zombie wife, the tough heroine, the social outcast who seems to thrive heroically at the end of the world, and they bind together, taking to the road in an attempt to evade and — when required — butcher the dead. Soon, this pack of ragged misfits end up at a remote farmhouse and, instead of finding peace, things go to hell very quickly.
Les Affames is often funny (there’s a running joke with a one character who gets off scaring the others), but the humor never comes at the expense of the characters or the general misery of their plight. Aubert’s pacing might be off-putting for some, but its slow, meandering vibe ingeniously puts us into the perspective of its heroes, who drift through the woods aimlessly and, when the gore hits — and it does — you feel it harder because of that languid rhythm. There are even some eerie, almost dreamlike moments with the zombies, things I’ve never seen before in any movie of this kind.
Les Affames had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival but no word on if and when you’ll be able to see it. We’ll keep you posted, because this is definitely a decent, surprising and worthy entry in the flesh-chomping zombie movie cannon.