Let's get a bit of vocab out of the way first: in folklore, a "revenant" is a visible ghost or animated corpse believed to have returned from the grave to terrorize the living. It comes from the French revenir which means "to come back" or the Latin reveniens, "returning."
That tidbit will actually add to your viewing experience of The Revenant, the latest film from Alejandro González Iñárritu, (director of 2014's Oscar-winning Best Picture Birdman). Another thing that will add to your viewing experience, the most important thing, is seeing this flick on a big screen.
Luckily, The Revenant is also playing this week at the Village 8 so you can check out the most visually appealing film of 2015. Mexico's Emmanuel Lubezki, (probably the best in the game right now, Lubezki has consecutive Oscars for Gravity and Birdman, plus a resumé that includes Children of Men, The Tree of Life, Y Tu Mama Tambien and more) handles the cinematography.
His trademark long-take action scenes are expectedly mind-blowing but the entire flick is full of visual wonder and mood. Apparently they shot with all natural light (in Canada, in winter) and there are some fireside last light, snowstorm moments in here that really shine.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, a tracker-hunter exploring the unsettled wilderness of 1820's Missouri with his son and a band of fur traders.
Wild things happen in wild country and as Glass' troupe flees from some attacking natives (arrow through the throat, anyone?)
Glass ends up being mauled by a mother grizzly in one of the gnarliest scenes of all time. Mortally wounded, Glass is eventually left for dead (it's more complicated than that), and has to endure a litany of hardships and harsh elements as he crawls back to what passes for civilization (it's more complicated than that, too, but I am not here to ruin the movie for you).
While the story contains a few almost random plotlines that barely line up with Glass' slog, the detail and cultural realism in The Revenant is inspiring. With three unrelated native languages plus French and English all converging in the same story, Iñárritu touches on the melting-pot concept of North American history and hints that lack of communication can play as powerful a role as true evil in the downfall of his characters, and the emergence of our society.
This is very much a man-vs.-nature film — Tom Hardy (Warrior, Mad Max: Fury Road) also stars as another antagonist, but really The Revenant hangs squarely on DiCaprio's weary shoulders. Much has been made about Leo's lack of a Best Actor Oscar that actually becomes one of the downfalls of the film — so much has been made about the suffering and frozen hardships of shooting this film (yes, he crawls inside a dead horse, but at least it wasn't a Tauntaun), that the precursory chatter about the acting can sometimes almost overpower the characters on the screen.
However, if you can keep your head in the game the whole time — 156 minutes! Fifteen to 20 too long, in my opinion — The Revenant is a visceral tour de force, a literal slog, but also a decent little revenge story.
And parts of it, including the bear attack, were apparently filmed in the upper Squamish Valley so, yes, DiCaprio was here and you missed him.
Also opening this week, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Daddy's Home kicks off the cinematic doldrums — that time when studios dump their crap because they know everyone overspent at Christmas and are waiting to see what awards season brings.
This one stars Will Ferrell as the bumbling stepfather-of-two caught in a dick-swinging contest with Mark Wahlberg, the badass-with-a-heart-of-gold real father. Over the course of 96 minutes, the two compete ferociously for their children's affection before realizing what's really important in the end.
Full disclosure, I am taking a pass on this one. The team involved will bring a few laughs, but to make this interesting Ferrell should have been the cool dad and Wahlberg should have been the schmuck. We all know he can do it.
The Point Break remake is also playing, but we'll get to that next week.