Isaac Thorne reviews Revelator
We live in the age of micro-attention spans verging on nano-attention spans. We like our social media posts short (preferably under 280 characters). Television advertisers have 15 seconds or less to sell you a product. The days of reading 1,000-page works of pop literature for leisure are mostly over regarding sheer audience numbers. Readers who cannot commit to the task of doorstop tomes read shorter novels, novellas, or short stories. Others just don’t read at all. Give us something we must concentrate on and comprehend for more than a few minutes, and we inevitably dive into our mobile devices out of dopamine deprivation. This is not a criticism of our modern culture; it is an observation.
Feature movies, on the other hand, aren’t any shorter in these days of chopped up consciousness. Instead, they cram unbelievable action atop unbelievable action in fantastical settings to ensure that our eyes stay on the screen, many times at the sacrifice of story. Lacking explosions or fantasy, filmmakers use nonstandard framing techniques to compel their audiences to stay glued to the screen. If the film trends in the opposite direction, the filmmaker risks losing the audience’s interest. When a slow-burn film like Revelator Films’ Revelator (2017) comes along, those of us who feel like we enjoy horror storytelling more than we appreciate special effects will settle in for the long haul even if the spectacle does not grab us by the throat in the first frame.
However, that doesn’t mean filmmakers can relax.
Revelator tells the story of John Dunning (J. Van Auken), a tortured psychic who finds himself caught up in a battle over a deceased client’s estate. Hounded by a former journalist looking to reignite her career with a spectacular story, Dunning battles skepticism and the enemies he’s made within the deceased client’s family. His only desire is to obtain the one thing he genuinely seems to desire: living alone on an island that was previously owned by the dead client, an island where no one has ever died and, thus, he will never see dead people.
Overall, Revelator’s concept is compelling. Van Auken, who wrote and directed the film in addition to starring in it, seems inspired by the Patricia Arquette television show Medium, perhaps with some Stephen King’s The Dead Zone thrown in for good measure. The sparse visual effects when Dunning experiences a vision are well done, even frightening or disturbing. However, that is ultimately the only horror element of the story. It is otherwise more of a mystery tale with a supernatural twist.
Unfortunately, that Medium inspiration for Revelator appears to carry forward into the cinematography, which is the one thing a modern audience can typically rely on to make a slow-burn story more compelling. This film is heavy on dialogue, which in and of itself is not a bad thing. However, the shots of the characters talking to each other are uninteresting. We merely see cut after cut of the same shot of each character as that character speaks. The actors are capable, although subdued. These interactions could have been more compelling if the camera had taken on a more personal point-of-view and if the actors had exaggerated their reactions to each other just a tad. Some scenes come off as characters reciting lines by rote.
For example, the scene in which the journalist first confronts Dunning would have been more exciting and watchable if we had been able to see and understand the reporter’s scrutiny of him in addition to hearing her dialogue. Dunning at first denies that he is Dunning and, when called on it, informs the journalist that he is not in need of the money he might obtain from consenting to her interview. The reporter replies that Dunning is using a 7-year-old smartphone and therefore apparently lacks income. At no point during that scene do the camera work or the expressions on the reporter’s face as she watches him give the audience any indication that she has even noticed Dunning’s phone. He holds it up to his face to Google her, but that’s it. A lingering shot on the reporter’s face and a cut to a close-up of the phone in Dunning’s hand might have been enough to create a more visually interesting scene that doesn’t seem so awash in a talk.
With some cinematographic modifications and a little more showing rather than telling, I think Revelator could be a much better film. That said, if you enjoy slow-burn mysteries, you could do far worse than Revelator.