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THE CARNIVORES (2020)
Directed by Caleb Michael Johnson.
Written by Caleb Michael Johnson, Jeff Bay Smith, Thomas Fernandes. Additional dialog by Tallie Medel, Lindsay Burdge, Frank Mosley, Vincent James Prendergast, Jason Newman.
Starring Lindsay Burdge, Tallie Medel, Frank Mosley, Vincent James Prendergast, Jason Newman, Brooke Whipple, & Aiden Colquitt as Harvie the Dog!
Bret (Lindsay Burdge) and Alice (Tallie Medel) are in a troubled relationship. Bret’s dog Harvie is sick and it’s taking all of their time and money to take care of him. While she is sympathetic to Bret’s plight, Alice resents the dog for taking all of the attention away from her partner. Troubled by sleepless nights, sleepwalking, and dreams of meat, Alice’s life is falling apart. When Harvie goes missing, this sparks a spiral for both women. Bret becomes obsessed with finding her lost dog and Alice is overcome with guilt thinking she is responsible for him going missing.
While this film barely qualifies as a horror film with some nightmarish dream sequences and some hints at cannibalism, I think THE CARNIVORES qualifies as it is a descent into madness for both Alice and Bret. More honestly, this is just a wonderful character study of a troubled relationship that is teetering on the brink. While both characters are highly damaged and in somewhat of a rut, I was pulled into this story mainly because of how unconventional and odd it is. Yes, Bret’s obsession with her dog leads her on a dark path. Yes, Alice’s percolating resentment bubbles over and causes her overwhelming guilt. But it’s the way these two characters cannonball into the abyss is what makes it all the more of a fascinating watch. These two women have extreme reactions to this tragedy and it wears their relationship to the nub, but their reactions, as crazy as they are, make some kind of sense given the unique and engaging characterizations director Caleb Michael Johnson and actresses Lindsay Burdge and Tallie Medel deliver.
Burge is effectively over the top in her obsession with her dog, oblivious to the rest of the world around her, including her partner. She’s great in this role and really gets some moments to shine in the latter portion of the film, giving light to her obsession. But I found Tallie Medel to be the most fascinating to watch as she is given much more to work with here. Medel displays every emotion with a genuine spunk and style. The wringer she puts herself through is crazy, but relatable every step of the way because of her likability. Both of these actresses bounce off of each other well, but it’s the insight into Medel’s character that propels the film.
There are also quite a few smaller performances that bring out the quirk. The banter of both of Alice and Bret’s bosses add some of the funniest bits of the film. These sequences work because of they represent the banal world that is working against the happiness of this couple. Another notable performance is Frank Mosley, who plays the Dog-Man, a bizarre barking man who lives in his car. While the cast is small, all of them provide wonderful character moments and flesh out the world of the film well.
Boiled down to basics, this is just a film about two lesbians who lose a dog. But it’s the simplicity and raw performances that make this such a quirky and odd little film. I went into this one thinking it was a somewhat Americanized version of RAW, the cannibal shocker from a few years ago. This one hints at some of the same themes, but never takes the gory plunge that RAW did. It’s not going to be the type of film for everyone, but if you’re a fan of psychologically bent, character-driven, small stories, THE CARNIVORES is one that packs a wallop.