Monday, January 21, 2019

“The Dingos Have Chewed Her Face Off” - Incident at Raven's Gate (1988)

We have not discussed many Australian classics at Senseless Cinema (excepting the classic Turkey Shoot), so we will address that oversight by exploring the supernatural (possibly) thriller (possibly) Incident at Raven's Gate (1988).

While some of your universe's critics appreciate this science fiction (possibly) film, others are more dismissive, such as reviewer merklekranz who writes, "The movie is something about water shortages, growing plants, demonic possession, strange electrical charges, the sky raining dead birds, unexplained animal attacks, and makes little sense." Reviewer leofwine_draca writes, "The story is disjointed and surreal....The cast aren't really very good and don't have time to do much other than stand around and interact with the bizarre events. It's very weird and not very satisfying." And reviewer andyetris writes, "Things happen, something else happens, the action shifts... The film eventually ends..." I must admit that andyetris is correct about one thing: The film does eventually end. He or she is incorrect about almost everything else, however, so let us look in more detail at Incident at Raven's Gate...

Over the main titles, we hear audio about scientists at a radiotelescope receiving a strange signal from somewhere in Australia called Raven’s Gate. A man named Dr. Hemmings is dispatched to a farm 20 miles outside Raven’s Gate to investigate. When he arrives, he finds the farmhouse charred, along with the vehicles out front.

Coincidentally, at the same time as the scientist arrives, an elderly policeman is investigating the interior of the house. Oddly, the nearly-elderly, bald Dr. Hemmings grabs the policeman’s gun and pretends to shoot him, only at the last second revealing he has somehow removed the bullets from the gun. Dr. Hemmings tells the policeman, Officer Taylor, that they will be working together to investigate the burnt farmhouse.

After the partnership is formed, the film immediately flashes back to five days earlier, ignoring the characters we have just met. The couple living in the farmhouse, Richard and Rachel Cleary, along with Richard’s younger brother Edward, find a dry water trough and a dozen dead sheep on their property. Edward, who has been flirting with Rachel, is assigned to burn the sheeps’ bodies while Richard (who looks a bit like Roberto Benigni) hydroponically grows plants in glass vessels in his greenhouse.

In a high-energy sequence, Edward drives toward town listening to rock music, and is quickly chased by a police car in which the officer is listening to opera. Due to some interference, presumably alien in nature, the radio reception in the cars switches so Edward hears opera and the policeman hears opera—even though he was listening to a cassette tape. Also, both cars roll to a stop. As the policeman is about to confront Edward, Edward jumps into his car and drives off, his car mysteriously working.

In town, Edward walks into a bar and plays Space Invaders (as is typical, the reflection of the video game appears on his face as he plays).

He gets into an extremely short fight with some of the bar patrons, and then the officer enters the bar to give him a ticket.

Further strange incidents occur, such as lightning striking an electrical pole.

Over at Raven’s Gate (literally a stuffed raven sitting on a gate), a man and his wife see lights hovering above the ground.

They run into their house and cower at the end of a hallway. “What’s happening?” the woman asks.

“God’s will be done,” replies her husband ominously.

The lights blast open their door.

Later, during a late-night lightning storm, birds start dropping from the sky, all in one place—on top of the opera-loving policeman’s car.

Meanwhile, the tension between Rachel and her brother-in-law Edward increases when they kiss, with her husband Richard secretly watching.

By the film’s halfway point, we know a multitude of things about the mystery afflicting the countryside: water is drying up, birds are dropping from the sky, and electricity is crackling. And also, Edward likes to wear comical reflective sunglasses.

Edward eventually finds a burnt black circle in a field which shocks him when he touches it. For some reason, he then goes to Raven’s Gate, only to find that the inside of the house is dripping with water. When the opera-loving policeman finds him in the house, we also find out that everyone inside speaks in a high voice, as if they have inhaled helium. This leads to a high-pitched scream, and the not-so-high-pitched discovery of what appears to be a twisted corpse.

The discovery leads to the officer screaming and driving away, and a friendly dog attacking Edward. It also leads to the policeman later murdering Annie, a bartender, by pushing her head through a window. Then, considerately, he dresses her corpse in a fancy gown and drives her to a bridge, where he drops her down into a ditch while singing opera.

In the future, Dr. Hemmings and Officer Taylor find Annie’s body in the ditch. Dr. Hemmings says, “No chance you recognize her, I suppose.”

“For Christ’s sake, how could I?” the policeman responds. “The dingos have chewed her face off.”

Back in the past, Richard tells Rachel he knows she is having an affair with Edward. “I’ve got eyes in my head, Rachel!” he cries.

But Edward is more concerned with the incidents at or near Raven’s Gate. He takes a rifle and investigates the place. Richard comes to find him. Edward, brandishing the rifle, tells his brother, “Now listen, you’ve got three choices. Either you get out of here, or you help me. That’s about it, really.”

They scuffle for a long time, and at the end, for some reason, a telephone bursts through a Raven’s Gate window and falls into the dust outside. “That’s for you,” Edward quips.

The brothers enter the house, which again makes their voices high-pitched. However, there is no grotesque body anymore, though there is still mysterious water pouring down the walls. Richard goes mad and attacks his brother, who pushes him away with the rifle. A chase ensues back to the Cleary homestead, where Edward ties Rachel up for unknown reasons and boards up the house against Richard’s attack.

The final act of the film becomes a siege. Richard attacks once, but a gunshot sends him away. Then Edward and Rachel hear footsteps on the roof. They find a hole in the ceiling—Richard is inside. After a tense exploration of the house, during which the audience can occasionally see what is happening, Richard assaults his brother with a gigantic knife, after which he is shot, apparently not fatally, by Rachel.

Then lights surround the house and something happens.

Explosions ensue, as does high-pitched screaming.

Back in the future, Dr. Hemmings drives Officer Taylor through the desert at night. Their relationship has a surprising, tragic end, the basis of which I am not certain I understand. And, in a final twist, Rachel and Edward are transported to a rebuilt home.

One of the film's strongest points is its oblique sense of humor, characterized in its naming of the government scientist Dr. Hemmings, who is revealed to be quite villainous, most likely after the actor/director David Hemmings, who worked with this film's producer Antony Ginnane on several projects including The Survivor (1981), which Hemmings directed.

On the other hand, the film's biggest flaw is probably its title, which should clearly be Incidents At or Near Raven's Gate, but who am I to quibble. An extremely satisfied movie viewer, that's who, so I of course will choose not to quibble.