SXSW 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! If cinematic auteur/weirdo extraordinaire Quentin Dupieux were to collaborate with someone like Raw’s Julia Ducournau, the result would potentially resemble The Carnivores, Caleb Johnson’s abstract hybrid of drama, horror, comedy and incisive character study. In under 80 minutes, the filmmaker effortlessly blends all these genre elements (arguably) into a coherent whole, a concoction that’s bound to be divisive, yet marks the arrival of a talent with a truly singular vision.
When Brett’s (Lindsay Burdge) dog Harvey falls terminally ill, Alice (Tallie Medel) does her best to be supportive. However, she is not nearly as invested in their canine companion as her partner. To keep Harvey alive for another year or two, Alice and Brett need to keep paying for treatments they can’t afford.
Harvey’s penchant for running away leads to him disappearing. Upon the discovery of a dog’s ear, the couple digs an empty grave, burying him symbolically. Yet Brett refuses to let go. As her search continues, Alice’s world starts to tear at the seams. She sleepwalks, awakening in random places after experiencing visions that are tantalizing, revolting, and sexual—consider steaks tightly wrapped in cellophane, processed flesh with licked off skin, ground beef ground further by human teeth.
“To keep Harvey alive for another year or two, Alice and Brett need to keep paying for treatments they can’t afford.”
“Either you’re eating a body,” someone tells Alice, summarizing at least one of the film’s prevailing themes. “Or your body is waiting to be eaten.” Johnson examines the repercussions of a tragedy on a couple through this Cronenbergian perspective, but also poses intriguing questions about mental illness, our most primal desires, and how easily they can be triggered.
The two leads are up to the task, particularly Tallie Medel, who does a fine balancing act–too enigmatic and borderline demented to root for, too compelling to look away. I loved the vet sequence, when she’s given good news about Harvey and seems blank, almost heartbroken about it, confusing the doctor. Her feral nature provides a stark contrast to the gentle, emotionally-aware Brett.
Filled with non-sequiturs, abrupt cuts, and nightmarish interludes, The Carnivores is not without its moments of humor. Alice’s sidesplitting lunches with her opinionated, ham-sandwich-loving co-worker could form a standalone web series by themselves. Johnson touches upon the real pain of losing a pet, and our growing lack of humanity (Brett’s heartless manager doesn’t give a s**t about her dog and won’t let her switch shifts). Meat isn’t for everyone, and neither is Johnson’s feature, but cinematic carnivores are bound to chomp this up.
The Carnivores was scheduled to screen at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.