After watching this film I had to take a few moments to reflect on what I had just watched. It wasn’t that it was a negative response, but more like… a necessary deep breathing exercise after an instance of stress.

The Carnivores, written (with co-writer Jeff Bay Smith) and directed by Caleb Johnson is a film worth mulling over, processing, because it’s unsettling for a reason. Some might take away varied things from the movie, but the nature of relationships and how we change/adapt and potentially unravel, is a very individualized thing, and the movie exemplifies that. As should the response.

The Meat of The Story

Alice (Tallie Medel) is jealous of her girlfriend Brett’s (Lindsay Burdge) attention to their dog Harvey, one Brett had prior to their meeting. She feels neglected, intimately and emotionally, and because Harvey’s health is getting worse, he’s in the spotlight more than ever. Add to that the financial weight of his treatments, her lack of sleep (and sleepwalking), and she’s headed towards a breakdown. Her limits are continually tested, and while she’s struggling, she’s also finding herself struck with a strange proclivity towards meat despite being a vegan. As her jealousy mounts, she also starts thinking about what it would be like without Harvey. When he goes missing, things take a turn for the worse.

source: SXSW

Some of the imagery of the meat here felt a bit reminiscent of Julia Ducournau’s Raw, but luckily the variables differ enough to keep it fresh. The scenes with the dog, Harvey (and the potential conclusions of what happened to him) coming from someone who is a big lover of animals, were especially disturbing for me. However, I recognize that the messiness of the situation hinges on this discomfort. Losing a grip on reality, on who you are, that slow degradation over time, met with the various factors pummeling you down, should be delivered in a way that makes the audience feel leveled. The Carnivores does that.

I think that Caleb Johnson does an admirable job with the movie, even when things are pushed a little too much, or too directly. It’s clear he’s a talented writer and filmmaker, and I look forward to seeing his next project.

Both of the actresses have their own sort of loss and unhinging, and each is rendered intensely with the considerable talent involved. Medel is especially harrowing, and while you get frustrated with her choices, she remains magnetic throughout. With such a small cast and limited settings, our couple needs to be compelling and demanding, which they definitely are.

Conclusion: The Carnivores

The film, while about Harvey and Alice’s own suspicion and doubt, is also about their relationship, which, by the film’s end, is truly tested. At such a short length, the movie doesn’t require much of your time, but each moment is felt.

The Carnivores is an effective psychological foray that may be divisive among some but is worth biting into, to really appreciate the talent within. It is successful in being both discomforting and inviting, you won’t know how to look away.

The Carnivores had its premiere in Austin on March 14th. 

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