AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: 16th March, from BLUE FINCH FILM RELEASING
RUNNING TIME: 90 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Journalist Becky is dying to get a big scoop, but is hampered by her severe germaphobia. When she returns home to find her girlfriend Charlotte leaving because of her condition, Becky makes an uncharacteristic decision to join her chemist friend Ozzy at an illegal rave in a closed-down factory, where she befriends the more understanding Hannah. A cache of ‘Renergize’ drinks is discovered in the factory’s storeroom and distributed among the thirsty dancers. However, nobody knows of the terrible event that took place on the last day the factory was open, and now the energy drink enhances the effects of drugs and the revelers become appetitive, id-driven mutants. In order to survive the night, Becky must confront her fear of dirt and grime….
In a way, a rave, despite being something where attendees dance and consume certain substances to achieve a kind of bliss, is something of a perfect setting for horror, from the fact that such events are frequently set in places that you wouldn’t at all want to wonder about in at night or even day, to the idea of people being so off their head or in the moment that they’re likely to take a while to notice any nasty goings-ons around them, to the usually surefire premise of lots of folk trapped inside a building. Yet off the top of my head without having a look online [if any reader thinks of any more please let us know] all I can think of are the revived Hammers’s [and by the way what’s happened to them of late, we haven’t had anything from them for some time now?] first offering Beyond The Rave even though it’s actually a film I’d rather forget considering its [very low] quality, the really rather good Rave Party Massacre [need to review that one], and I guess Climax if that counts, which I’m not sure it does. Of course raves have turned up briefly in certain movies like Freddy Vs Jason, but I remain surprised that the genre hasn’t visited the underground party scene more often. But at least we now have the nifty little cheapie Ravers, which is also clearly influenced by much older efforts such as Demons, but which also partly comes across as the down-market Climax. There’s one thing that’s rather strange about it which I’d like to get out of the way before I go on to be far more positive about this curiously charming D.I.Y. effort that apparently took cast and crew four years, on and off, to make. It’s set in Chicago, but it somehow can’t help but seem like a British picture, and this would probably be the case even if all the cast members put on American accents that were consistently good. There’s just something tell-tale about it. I suppose that setting it in the States was done so the film would have broader appeal, though I’m not sure that would have made much difference really.
So what we have here is yet another melding of horror and humour, and films which attempt to do this seem to me to be increasingly a lazy get-out clause for filmmakers who aren’t much good at creating terror or indeed making a decent film full stop so they resort to self-mockery. But Ravers combines the two fairly well; it’s on the edge of being a spoof but never quite tips over into being one even though it has its genuinely funny moments, and maintains its tension pretty well even though it never quite manages to become particularly frightening. It has some surprisingly good characterisation, especially a pretty well written lead character whose big ‘problem’ is handled with both humour and sensitivity [the two often don’t go together] and which doesn’t all but disappear when things heat up as in many other films – just check the way that she climbs up a ladder that she refuses to touch with her hands using her sleeves as a buffer – something which actually puts her in more danger. It portrays the rave environment in a pretty spot on fashion [let’s just say that Dr Lenera likes to let his hair down at times and leave it at that] even if I’m not sure that the only black character needed to be the main drug dealer – as you probably know I most definitely do not follow the religion of PC but come on, drug dealers at parties come in all colours – though saying all that, the character is one of the most rounded ones so maybe one shouldn’t whinge too much. And it refuses to take a position on all the drug taking that goes on, it’s depicted as just something that most ravers do – unless of course one wants to take the premise a bit more seriously. In fact as I type it does seem that at times the film were commenting on rave culture quite sharply, slightly taking the mickey but not descending into full-on mockery.
We begin with a prologue set in the Cardiff-set factory which will later become home to loads of gyrating, off-their-face, dancers. A round of termination letters at this plant which manufactures a new energy drink appropriately named Renergizer causes a blip in the production line which adds a secret ingredient to Batch 18. Amid a nice cameo by Dave Johns who four years ago broke the hearts of almost anybody who saw I, Daniel Blake,a hulking employee on steroids has some of the drink and goes berserk, throwing people around in quite a well staged scene cleverly making use of particular camera angles so we’re convinced by what we’re seeing, then decapitates someone with a health and safety award plaque on the assembly line so that the head reappears further down all neatly wrapped up in plastic and with a READY TO SHIP label stuck on it. Well I chuckled, though I’ll be the first to admit that one often needs to be in the mood for this kind of grisly humour. We see a worker sneak out with a large pack of bottles, then we meet germaphobic would-be reporter Becky, who immediately won me over by serving banana and blueberry muffins in the office despite being repulsed by the sight of other people eating, licking their lips and poking their nose, something conveyed by extreme close-ups. Her editor [the also cameo-ing Natasha Henstridge] thinks that Becky’s stuff needs more “umph”, and of course we’ve all heard dialogue like, “If you wanna be a reporter Becky, you’re gonna have to get your hands dirty“, except of course here it’s meant literally as well as figuratively. Her chemist friend Ozzie [yes, he’s called that for a reason] lets her into a lab which may be doing unethical things, but the manager appears and orders her to leave. With her latest potential story in tatters, and her girlfriend moving out because Becky’s place “always smells like mouthwash”, what’s there to do, but go to a rave, especially one which a certain lady named Hannah who has caught her eye is also going to!
Even wearing a surgical mask [god there are weird parallels with a certain world-wide event that’s going on right now] and a pukka jacket that she keeps on even as she strides through the dance floor, she doesn’t look out of place among all the freaks proppa ‘aving it to the techno being spun. Vince the drug dealer finds all these bottles of Renergize while dragging the ‘obligatory-to-any-party person who’s overdone it really early and has totally crashed out’ to another room, and Seb dishes them out for free. Meanwhile Becky finds Hannah and sparks immediately fly between them, even though Hannah takes her time to get around to taking any drugs and Becky refuses to have any whatsoever. Then Hannah suddenly starts to look and act strange as the minimal techno emitting from the decks becomes darker and harder. Others behave oddly too, but of course most of those unaffected just keep on dancing. After all, nearly everyone is on drugs right? These “mutant” [rather than “zombie” ravers] tend to act differently depending on whatever drug they’re on, and interestingly don’t want flesh or blood; they just want “more”. Quite often it’s just more drugs, but sometimes it’s other things like money or sex. What we’re basically seeing depicted is human greed, though any messages are only really there if you want them to be and like to have something a tad deeper to latch on to. Music seems to keep most of these mutants reasonably calm, so god forbid it should ever stops – one moment when it does and the punters react badly is scarcely any different from any really good party when the beat comes to a sudden and premature end. Here as in a few other moments, screenwriter Luke Foster and director Bernhard Pucher who also co-wrote the story with Foster, seem to be gently mocking the total reliance on the music ravers have, how the music drives and controls the party – but without going as far as to take the piss.
When things really kick off, Seb does a runner and locks everybody inside, so it’s down to a few individuals to try to put a stop to this plague. The sequence when they work out a possible cure and set about making it is ridiculous, but by now we’re involved enough that we let it pass and just think of it as an amusing update of all those the ’50s ‘B’ sci-fi movies featuring scientists in similar scenes. There’s lots of fighting which is limited technically but enhanced by the cinematography of Luke Bryant who shoots most of the time with a handheld camera but who never lets the action degenerate into incoherent, eye-hurting ‘shakycam’. In between there are some obvious but still usually amusing vignettes, like the stoned couple who are incredibly “chilled out” despite what they’re witnessing, the couple making out where the girl brutally kills someone before quickly returning to where she left off, and the wannabe DJ who wants to get his turn on the decks real bad. We see a lot of Vince, who in true capitalist enterpreneur fashion sees a way to make money from the crisis. We’re not sure if we like him or not, but that’s okay, at least for me – as I get older I increasingly like it when characters are portrayed in shades of grey rather than in black or white. Kamal Angelo Bolden, who recently garnered much praise for his role in an episode of The Resident TV series, plays the part more for comedy than seriousness, but his reactions to the shit going on around him still seem plausible. But of course it’s Giorgia Hirst [Vikings] who you will remember most, she provides a nicely shaded performance as her heroine has to deal with personal fears – heights, germs, drugs – as well as lots of mutants behaving badly. Perhaps her best moment is when she’s crawling across the dance floor, desperate but determined.
This was obviously a very low budget production, so, while you do get some practical gore effects, they’re fairly limited and the mutants are mostly evoked by red under the eyes and swollen veins. It’s odd that we can’t still hear the techno when in rooms right beside the main one – and an undercover cop character called Jen is slightly daft and seems to be there just so that somebody can have things like cuffs and a taser gun [would these have even been let in?] which can subdue mutants. I could have done with the film being genuinely frightening in places, something which it doesn’t quite achieve though it does come close. And maybe there’s too much footage of people dancing for folk who think that the idea of being at a rave is horrific in itself. But one can only praise, for example, the neat screenwriting where even minor bits of business play a part in events later on and where even characters who you only see sometimes come across as actual rounded human beings – yet the whole thing still moves at a cracking pace. The music is used well enough so that what’s rocking the dance floor reflects what’s happening elsewhere and some bits of score even merge with the techno tunes. Pucher and Foster previously collaborated in 2012 on Betsy And Leonard which looks awfully ‘romcom’-ish for my tastes yet which I still now want to see. Let’s hope that it’s not as long as it was between those two offerings before we get their next production. Ravers is not just a commendable but often a genuinely good effort which deserves a wider audience….though I don’t recommend to any party people reading this that they watch it just before a night out.
check out David S. Smith’s review from FrightFest 2018 here