[SXSW 2020] THE CARNIVORES -- Original Psychodrama Bites Off More Than it Can Chew
Review by Camden Ferrell
Caleb Michael Johnson’s sophomore feature, The Carnivores, is an intriguing psychodrama and romance hybrid. It is one of the more ambitious and ambiguous movies of 2020 so far. While its premise is enticing and the acting is stellar, the movie seems to bite off more than it can chew.
Domestic partners, Alice and Bret, are under stress due to the sickness of their dying dog, Harvie. The failing health of the dog is affecting Bret heavily, and this causes Alice to feel left out in her own relationship. The movie deals with Alice’s attempt to get rid of Harvie while making sense of her own sleepwalking all while her relationship becomes overshadowed by paranoia and suspicion. This is a highly original premise that explores the relationship dynamic and self-doubt in a unique way.
Johnson’s script which he co-wrote with Jeff Bay Smith is minimalist enough to create mystery, but it gives just enough context, so the viewer doesn’t feel completely lost. Unfortunately, there are times where it’s minimum to a fault. Certain scenes in the second act seem very contrived and out of place, and it’s a noticeable lull.
The acting in this movie is fantastic, and it’s easily the film’s strongest aspect. Lindsay Burdge and Tallie Medel play Bret and Alice respectively. They capture some of the finer nuances of a relationship under stress, and even though their material isn’t always the strongest, they make the most of it, and it’s really fun to watch their chemistry on screen.
The movie features some really odd and questionable editing choices. While the film is aiming the create a sense of unease, the editing is very choppy in certain sequences, and it is off-putting. The film also has some really rich gags that are darkly funny, and it doesn’t allocate nearly enough times to these moments. It spends an awful lot of time on more inconsequential aspects of the film.
The first act of the film is fairly solid, and it sets up a lot of initial mystery and intrigue, but this gets drawn out extensively in its subsequent act. It meanders a lot, and while the mystery is still present, the intrigue slowly diminishes. This ends in a ground-beef filled final act that is exciting but painfully rushed and unfulfilling. The narrative had a lot of loose ends to address, and it’s another case of a film that bit off too much and wasn’t able to conclude all of it adequately.
The Carnivores had a lot working for it. It has some great female leads, an exiting story, and plenty of mystery. However, it spends too much time meandering and it ultimately squanders its potential. This could have been a profound and psychologically jarring story about relationships, desire, and self-doubt, but it made too many questionable choices along the way.
The Carnivores was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.
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