There’s a compelling premise at the heart of White Raven: four friends, a cooler of beer and a pistol go camping. And for a good chunk of the film’s running time there’s a believable comradery among the four, as though the pals from Stand By Me reunited in middle-age to relive the adventure of finding Ray Brower’s body. Granted, there’s significantly more dread hanging over the proceedings (as there is in much of adult life), and the dead at the end are significantly fresher.
But it takes more than 20 minutes before they follow the train tracks into the woods; 20 minutes that’s spent telling us that Dan (Shane Twerdun) the bar manager got a barely-legal barmaid pregnant, Jake (Aaron Brooks) lost his pilot’s license after failing a drug test, Kevin (Andrew Dunbar) the devoted dad has a wife who’s cheating on him and Pete (Steve Bradley) has gone all weirdo-beardo woodsman who only goes into town so he can buy booze and stalk his ex (guess who’s packin’ heat on this little boys adventure?). It’s important backstory—which each character then reveals over beers around a campfire, rendering those opening 20 minutes pointless. Compare that to the backwoods survival horror classic Deliverance, which opens with the four friends already wheeling down a dirt road in Appalachia and only eases off the gas long enough for banjos and buggery.
Of course, Deliverance dealt with the modern man’s ability—or inability—to adapt to and survive primitive challenges while being confronted with the very meaning of what it means to be a man. White Raven, on the other hand, is steeped in the typical difficulties, anxieties and gripes of being a grownup. These are guys we all know (and maybe we all are, in one way or another), clinging to old schoolyard friendships that just aren’t the same anymore, no matter how much alcohol is consumed. And instead of crazy toothless hillbillies, there’s the increasingly unhinged pistol-packing Pete.
So no, White Raven isn’t Deliverance. But that opening 20 minutes aside, it’s a fairly taut thriller featuring a cast of characters that are a lot like the 30- and 40-year-old guys I know who are still trying to figure things out, who wake up hating the day, wondering how they got here, wishing it were the weekend. The conversations, the banter, the gentle (and not-so-gentle) ribbing between the four leads is believable without being boring, it’s at turns amusing and serious and speaks to some real truths of what it’s like to be in your 30s or 40s and wondering how they hell you got there and where it all went wrong. And then the gun comes into play and the tension ratchets up a few more notches.
White Raven is sharply written and directed by Andrew Moxham (who also mishandles the editing duties, unfortunately, with that interminable first act), and the acting is very strong throughout. It premieres at the Blood in the Snow film festival this weekend.