Director of Canadian survivalist horror movie WHITE RAVEN speaks.
Two of the very best films I’ve seen this year are set in the mountainous temperate rainforests of Canada’s west coast, featuring lost and haunted men hiking unmarked trails to oblivion. The first is Trevor Juras’ supernatural terror/absurdist comedy THE INTERIOR and the second is Andrew Moxham’s extremely stark exercise in anxiety WHITE RAVEN, which has its world premiere on Sunday, November 29th as part of Toronto’s Blood in the Snow Festival.
Made by and starring the same core crew behind the recent work of Canada’s original indie film maverick Larry Kent (who’s been making films since the early 1960s!), including the criminally underrated EXLEY (2011) and ferociously angry Barry Convex Award winner SHE WHO MUST BURN (2014), which just so happens to be playing back-to-back with WHITE RAVEN at Blood in the Snow. If you’re in town for this superbly fun Can-Con horror fest, I’m telling you, these are the ones you want to see…
Taking a page from DELIVERANCE (1972) and its little Canadian brother RITUALS (1977), WHITE RAVEN is a woodland band-of-brothers survivalist nightmare but without the external menace. The danger, instead, is the cracking sanity of one of the men in the gang, a worsening and obvious problem that the others hope will go away with just a little more beer-guzzling abandonment. Eventually there’s a tipping point into real violence, and desperate action becomes the only possible response.
WHITE RAVEN is the story of four old friends: Dan (Shane Twerdun, the title character in EXLEY), a bar manager who’s getting a bit long in the tooth to be bedding his 20-year-old coworkers (his latest score might be pregnant); Jake (Aaron Brooks), a pilot who lost his license after failing a drug & alcohol test, a fact he’s been keeping from his wife Alice (Missy Cross, a standout in SHE WHO MUST BURN); Kevin (Andrew Dunbar), the clean cut suit and voice of reason with a reliable job, a baby and a wife who is cheating on him, and Pete (Steve Bradley), a rough-and-tumble woodsman who has long since retreated from human interaction, modern technology and urban living, apparently only entering city limits to stalk his ex, drink heavily (alone), and – when we first meet him – shove a loaded pistol into his mouth.
This foursome set out on their yearly boys-only camping trip, leaving their jobs, partners and problems behind to drown in beer and bro-mance. The film from here on out is confined to the woods. But don’t expect any teen screams, nor is this quartet a band of chummy professionals, like the Atlanta businessmen of DELIVERANCE or the Canadian physicians of RITUALS. These are schoolyard friendships, all trying to hold on to this yearly ritual despite shifting life realities and the clear evidence that none of them are the same inseparable friends they once were. Speaking for myself, as a 30-something year old, newly married with a toddler, born and raised in the west coast ‘burbs but escaped to the city, I find this film and these men so exceptionally relatable that the anxiety is cause for some pause button bathroom breaks.
In 2011, Moxham and co. – including Steve Bradley in a terrifyingly brutal role as a brain-damaged killer that prefigures his knock-out performance in WHITE RAVEN – participated in the 10th edition of Vancouver’s very popular Bloodshots 48-hour horror filmmaking competition. I was a member of the four-person jury that year, and we unanimously chose Moxham’s unnerving MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS for the “Best Film” prize out of 25 submissions. So it was a bit shocking when this proved to be a resoundingly unpopular choice. The organizers of Bloodshots were promptly bombarded by hate mail from audience members and other competing filmmakers, appalled that we would reward such an ugly, challenging piece of work. Things got so bad (I read many of these emails – most were nasty and anonymous) that it led to the permanent dissolution of the contest. I took from this experience two lessons: the Vancouver crowd is evidently all about teen werewolves and dick jokes and doesn’t have a heart for horror that actually hurts (and both MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS and WHITE RAVEN most certainly do); and this Andrew Moxham character was obviously a man to watch.
WHITE RAVEN is a savagely honest thriller about dependency, aimless stunted manhood and the gasping illusion that a soul can be cleansed through isolation, alcohol and violence. It’s a minor masterpiece from Canada’s most serious and committed rising talents. Essential viewing that you will want to revisit. Shock Till You Drop chats with director/writer/editor Andrew Moxham on the eve of his film’s festival debut.
SHOCK: The White Buffalo production & acting team behind WHITE RAVEN has worked extensively with pioneering independent Canadian filmmaker Larry Kent and now you are sharing a double-bill of sorts with SHE WHO MUST BURN at the Blood in the Snow Festival this November. Can you discuss the processes and influences of working with Larry, what it has carried over to this film, and the major differences of working on your own?
MOXHAM: Well, there is no question that Larry has inspired us from day one. Anyone who’s met him knows he’s full of creative energy at all times. As a director I’ve learned a lot from him, especially considering our styles do vary, but one thing Larry teaches you simply by watching his films is to be bold. Life is too short to be just like everyone else. Another thing I’ve picked up from him is perseverance. He’s been making indie films for over 50 years. Anyone in the indie scene can tell you that’s a hard road. But he’s still at it. As far as working on our own I’d say we had the luxury of cutting our teeth in the digital age so from a technical perspective, we’re much more independent. Larry, despite being innovative and original as far as his subject matter, is very much an old school guy. He thrives on the relationship between director and DP and then again in post with the editor. In the case of WHITE RAVEN, I was the Director/DP/Editor so it’s less of a collaborative style but definitely more efficient. Our largest crew was seven people including actors.