Among Ravens isn’t nearly as deep as it thinks it is. Centering on a group of friends who reunite at a lakehouse for their annual Fourth of July get-together, it shoots for the wit and profundity of The Big Chill, but as the film progresses, it soon becomes clear that directors Russell Friedenberg and Randy Redroad are grappling around in the dark for a greater meaning that they lack the ability to articulate. So, instead of providing coherent ideas about the nature of aging, marriage, happiness and family, Among Ravens plays in disappointingly shallow waters, presenting viewers with one-note characters and a borderline nauseating amount of clunky bird metaphors. Unfortunately, just because it sounds profound, that doesn’t mean it actually is.
On hand to provide some of the film’s most aggravatingly artificial lines is Joey (Johnny Sequoyah), a 10-year-old girl whose development literally begins and ends at precocious. As the daughter of Wendy (Amy Smart), whose scenic Idaho lakehouse all the stereotyped characters descend upon for the weekend, she gets caught up in the middle of a mess of dysfunctional friendships and romantic entanglements.
In the mix are Wendy’s whiny stockbroker husband Ellis (Joshua Leonard); her ex and Joey’s father Saul (Friedenberg), who’s a bestselling author paying a ghost writer (Christian Campbell) to pen all his books; Saul’s unhappy wife Emma (Victoria Smurfit); Wendy’s college friend Hal (Calum Grant), a pot-smoking burn-out who inexplicably moonlights as a life coach; and Hal’s “life partner” Saturn (Castille Landon), who just wants to have sex with everything (seriously). That dismal cast of characters creates enough drama to fill the film, but there’s one more player who comes into the fold – Chad (Will McCormack), a possibly autistic young man unrelated to the rest of the group who, armed with a camera, sets about recording the wildlife, only to draw out the others’ lies, secrets and self-delusions in the process.
How on Earth do Friedenberg and Redroad set about building all of these characters into relatable, flesh-and-blood characters with whom us viewers can sympathize? The simple answer is that they just don’t. Ellis wears an ascot. Saturn spouts lines like “The truth is always beautiful,” in lieu of actually conveying emotion. And worst of all is Hal, who is really left out in the cold by the storyline and makes only the faintest of impressions, occasionally cracking a joke or hovering in the background.
Other players are featured too heavily for their own good. Among Ravens suffers from an overabundance of Joey, whether she’s doing cutesy kid stuff like delineating between fine wines (?) and attempting to drown Chad (???), or just moodily staring off into space. Sequoyah’s performance is strong, but her character is as vacant as they come. Wendy, too, is detestable in her passivity and quiet discourtesy, and her scenes with Ellis and Saul (whom she may or may not still have a thing for) drag. For his part, Saul turns into a straight-up villain when his ghost writer and wife start hooking up, making his ultimate character arc baffling.
The only character I didn’t quickly tire of was Chad. McCormack plays him without the ostenations and dramatic flourishes that all the other actors seem to have considered a prerequisite for making a good indie drama. The effect is that he often feels like the only genuine character. It’s just a shame that Friedenberg and Redroad completely disregard that there’s no real reason for him to be hanging around the gathering, seeing as the others are all utter strangers to him. And that Chad often hides behind his camera just adds another cliché to an unwieldly mountain of them that eventually topples down on the characters.
The unbelievable way in which Among Ravens‘ story unfolds might be acceptable if its protagonists had anything interesting to do or say to one another. But there’s just absolutely no one with enough personality to warrant even a shrug from audience members, so as each of the characters are faced with obstacles (Saul’s assistant turns on him, Ellis and Wendy grow apart, Saturn is confronted with the cold reality that she can’t have sex with everyone at the gathering, etc.), it’s hard to care about their struggles. And when the script insists on comparing everyone to goddamn birds, there’s only so much a viewer can take. Sure, ravens watch over one another, flock together, screw one another over now and again – just like our characters!, the script seems to exclaim proudly. So? What’s the point of constructing such an exhaustingly prevalent metaphor if it adds nothing to our understanding of the characters or what their conflicts signify? That you’ll likely still be asking yourself that question as the credits roll should speak to how empty Among Ravens really is.
Painfully overwrought yet thinly scripted, Among Ravens strains for a profundity it never grasps.