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Kaw
cast: Sean Patrick Flanery, Stephen McHattie, Kristin Booth, John Ralston and Rod Taylor

director: Sheldon Wilson

89 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Starz DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Sheldon Wilson's Kaw opens unassumingly with a death in the barn. A farmer accidentally reverses his tractor over a raven and the rafters release the raptors with more ravens setting upon the man. His body is found on the barn floor but its one of those polite corpses that don't want to disturb anyone. If say, found by a loved one, or a child. This kind of perfect cadaver that to turn up in American television movies of the 1970s, a few streaks of blood, no open wounds. If this is the direction the film is going to take then we can write off a visceral assault now and hope the story refreshes instead. But no, the plotline, too, can be quickly assessed as a throwback to the eco horror flick of the 1970s, then common on cinema double bills and on television in the 'movie of the week' slot. The story is of old-school simplicity, nature turns on mankind. Good for us, the film will shift tone and become something unreasonable. The dead farmer's pristine body that opens the film serves only to misdirect us. The horror ante is soon upped as the deaths become more graphic and the killing spree more random.

Set in a small American town of shrinking population, the kind of retro-ville straight out of Kingdom Of The Spiders and Squirm, it opens on Wayne the sheriff (Sean Patrick Flannery) and wife Cynthia (Kristin Booth). She is an overqualified city girl and he feels it unfair to keep her in hicks-ville unemployed when she can be working in a major museum unearthing the past and making a name for herself, otherwise why all the studying. Their life is in boxes and they are ready to go. Wayne and his deputy, Stan, are called to the farmer's death. They are met by an octogenarian doctor played by Rod Taylor, who is having difficulty determining the cause of his injuries... which at that stage could be put down to someone going berserk with a red felt tip pen. Stephen McHattie meanwhile is Clyde having a bout of trouble with ravens. The birds assault him, but he is able to defend himself with a shotgun. His alcoholic past and nervous breakdown, however, leads to him pocketing the truth, not expecting anyone to believe him. He owns a bus, which puts some work his way. Today he is to collect a teacher and three schoolgirls for a sporty kick-about-come-workshop out in the country. One of the girls, Gretchen, is a menonite and her community keeps a dark secret that is related to the raven attacks. When the cause of the attacks is revealed it should be anticipated but is so stupid in a 1970s' horror way, that one would have to be of below average intellect to have seen it coming. The film has fitfully kept us occupied in the meantime.

It has a textbook cast, a mix of minor villains, dull heroes and slightly more character-full supporting outcasts. McHattie wears his skin tight over the bones, haggard and worn, a million years away from his turn as Rosemary's grown up devil baby. He is the true star of the film. Likewise, Rod Taylor is solid but the first real shock of the movie. Who told him he could get that old? What venerably evokes the 1970s' ecological horror above all is the unpredictable reaping pattern, characters falling unexpectedly. How much of this is by design is more difficult to ascertain. The quietly heroic, the human, the interesting and likeable figures do not survive which left this viewer in oblivion. There are no outright villains among the survivors but none of those escaping the death knell are notable. The amiable fall victim to ugly deaths, sometimes slowly expiring with the back of their heads pecked out. The popularity of other recent films is not overlooked and the school bus and cornfields tip a hat to Jeepers Creepers 2, whereas the popularity of the twin series of Ring films ensures that Cynthia falls down a well for 15 minutes.

Ravens are noted for their intelligence and have been known to bomb targets and drop nuts onto pedestrian crossings to allow the cars to crack them open and collect the kernels by joining the people as they cross. The writers get carried away with these facts. The menonites are overheard by Cynthia to give us an ever so handy recap of the events that have led to the current situation. The ludicrous owns this film, as does discontinuity. The weather is unsettled and snow, mud, sludge and dry are the conditions in the small geographical area in the space of a single day. The sky and the landscape are also of an interchangeable quality.

Yet again, a film thought to be American and yet surprisingly interesting turns out to be Canadian, and announces itself not as a Canadian production but a Quebec/ Ontario co-production (shot largely in Flamborough, Ontario). Kaw (isn't that the sound of a crow, Edmund Cooper might have said it was Kronk!) is entertaining, but too many good people die along the way leaving a drab batch of survivors. It doesn't make it seem like a war won. The viewer is left confused as to how they feel about the conclusion. If that was by design then, well done Sheldon Wilson, it makes of you more of a master of horror than an Eli Roth or Takashi Miike, directors incapable of delivering a single character worth identifying with or worrying about. I am however uncertain that Wilson didn't come to this downer of an ambience by design. I look forward to him not improving as a filmmaker though and giving us more of the lunatic same in his next film.
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