Acclaimed Scottish horror film The Unkindness of Ravens now on DVD and Blu-ray
Scottish indie filmmaker Lawrie Brewster and writer Sarah Daly made a splash in 2013 when their low-budget, high-concept Gothic drama The Lord of Tears swept film fests across Europe and built its modest cult brick by brick. Brewster and company managed to do this completely independently, initially self distributing the film in a snazzy multi-disc package and launching a series of spooky prank videos with their nightmarish lead villain, the “Owl Man.”
The Lord of Tears was an elegant film, somewhat flawed not in the sense that it was inevitably chained to its budgetary restraints, but because Brewster and Daly were still trying to work out their cinematic language. Their Kickstarter-goosed follow-up film The Unkindness of Ravens refines that language, employing the same hallucinatory imagery and psychologically-grounded narrative and gives us not just another designer-masked monster but a horde of them, to terrify its characters and us. And while the twitching raven monsters in The Unkindness of Ravens are indeed eerie, the real horror happens within the confines of our protagonist’s mind.
The film stars The Lord of Tears‘ Jamie Scott Gordon as Andrew, a deeply-disturbed war veteran who returns from the East battered and bruised. His therapist tries in vain to unlock his psychosis, one that due to whatever horrors he has experienced, has manifested itself as a phobia of ravens. And worse. Andrew is seeing visions of bird-headed soldiers too, with metal talons and swords. In order to heal himself, Andrew goes on a sabbatical to a remote country cottage and once alone, those monstrous visions increase their intensity and frequency. While his cackling doppleganger tries to lead him through his mental muck, he sees images of birds ripping eyes from sockets and those raven men dragging screaming, blinded bloody men across desert landscapes, using their black calipers to remove eyeballs willy nilly and place those orbs in a revolting jar. And THEN the movie gets weird…
The Unkindness of Ravens is not an easy watch. It’s dedicated to assaulting your senses and disorienting you and it can get very repetitive. But this is essential. Brewster, Daly and Scott Gordon work in collusion to get you deep inside this ruined man’s mind and refuses to let us go. The horror comes not from any trite contrivances of plot, but from the environment the filmmakers create. And those raven warriors are iconic. Mute and deep black, jerking their beaked, feathered heads from side to side and marching towards their prey (and even creepier, emerging and disappearing behind walls like figures in a pop-up book). They reminded me of the Templar zombies in Tombs of the Blind Dead and its sequels and I wouldn’t be surprised if those remarkable Spanish horror classics served as some sort of inspiration.
This is a wildly cinematic film. From its mesmerizing dream sequences that feel ripped from a lost Ken Russell film (and also echo the opening sequence from Paul Schrader’s Cat People) to the still, beautiful images of the Scottish countryside and its The Wicker Man-esque pagan folk music to Scott Gordon’s blistering lead performance; this is pure cinema. Noted British writer and critic Kim Newman commended the film, citing that despite any shortcomings, Brewster and Daly and their team are bravely forging new territory in world where most indie filmmakers simply vomit out another Netflix-baiting possession film or slasher trasher. He’s right. These filmmakers not only care about creating beautiful, intelligent horror they have the talent to back up their desires.
You can order your copy of The Unkindness of Ravens (a handsome Blu-ray/DVD/CD pack) directly from the filmmakers here. Do it. Trust me.