Review by Mark Schwab
May 19th, 2017
Indie filmmakers are sure getting brave these days in the stories they want to tell. Science fiction, period pieces, heavy special effects...genres which require a decent-sized budget and extensive behind-the-camera skills...all of that be darned. Full speed ahead. I'm not sure if it's the accessibility to decent cameras or just a general enthusiasm across our country for friends and family to come together and make a movie. It is in this spirit where writer/director Jeffrey Tenney attempts to create his medieval sword and sorcery saga THE RAVEN'S PREY.
Set during the World of Warcraft era, the plot is complicated (I think) but it basically boils down to a pacifist-style diplomat (called simply Principal) who journeys to a far off land on orders from his Queen to squash a rebellion/uprising. But being a man of logic and reason doesn't fly when you have religious zealots going at each other with swords and dark-age attitudes. Our Principal must come up with a different approach or he'll be bellytimber.
There are a lot of characters in THE RAVEN'S PREY and most of the film involves them walking around in a forested area and talking in medieval dialogue - a lot of thee's and thou's. There is an occasional sword fight and an occasional attempt at a nightmarish hallucination/flashback but it all gets bogged down because this production got away from the well-intentioned folks at Freethinker Films.
The biggest issue for me is the acting. Good acting can forgive a lot of other flaws for me. If I'm into the characters, I don't need much else to be involved. Here, the cast seems committed (with everyone looking like they had a good time making this) but this language barrier is just too tough for amateur performers. A couple of times, it looked like the actors were searching for their lines on-camera. Clocking in at almost two hours, this becomes so distracting that I started to notice other things that would normally not register as much with me...things like inconsistent audio recording, eyelines not matching up (violating the "180 degree rule") and the costumes - while beautifully designed and solidly period - being sparkling clean as if they were preparing for their first LARP tournament. Even THE PRINCESS BRIDE put a little dirt on the actors once in awhile.
The funny thing is, when I sit back and really listen to the dialogue and look at this script objectively without the baggage...I think it's pretty good. It's structured thoughtfully and the dialogue actually does have a nice Dungeons and Dragons flavor to it. Also, if this could be cut down by 30+ minutes I'm sure it could help the watchability of it.
With a bigger budget, more experienced actors and more films under his belt (my research seems to indicate this is Tenney's first ever movie), I think Jeffrey Tenney could make something quite special with THE RAVEN'S PREY. Tenney can be proud that he took this incredibly ambitious film and completed it on a micro-budget with some nice locations and production design. For a first film ever, I gotta take my hat off to Jeffrey Tenney. But I would also caution him about picking projects that require a 1st level Mage to cast 10th level spells.