By: Addison Wylie
Drafthouse Films’ track record is uneven, but you have to give them credit for being able to uncover bizarrely profound work. As for their current experiment, they’re giving Roar – an outrageously irresponsible survival film – a second chance. Knowing the production company, they see cult potential in Noel Marshall’s dangerous film.
Roar was littered with problems during production including multiple injuries to the cast and crew, as well as natural disasters such as floods. The latter can only be controlled by nature, however the former could’ve been prevented by hiring tamed animals and stunt professionals.
Roar is set in an African climate and is filled with wild animals such as lions and elephants. Marshall plays a man who is “one with the animals”. He allows the feral creatures to roam around his intricate house, and doesn’t seem to be bothered when the wildlife attacks him. Lots of Roar had to be improvised because of how many times an actor had to stop dialoguing in order to stop an animal from attacking them.
The cast is filled out by others who were close to Noel on a personal level. His now ex Tippi Hedren plays his wife, a young Melanie Griffith plays his daughter, and his real-life sons play siblings in the movie. I can’t imagine how many apologies Noel issued to his cast after a hard day’s work of running away from unpredictable animals. Since the production dragged for eleven years, his sincerity must’ve worn off.
Story wise, there’s not much to Roar. Animal enthusiast Hank (Noel Marshall) leaves his African homestead, and his family comes visiting when he’s out and about. As they wait for Hank, they must fend for themselves and stay alive. Meanwhile, cutthroat poachers set out to kill Hank’s animal pals after an attack on their boats. The rest of Roar features scenes of people fleeing and hiding from baffled wildlife – that’s about it.
While that explanation sounds uninspired, the sheer lunacy and incompetence is what makes Roar a spellbinding film. In a way, Marshall has accidentally created a documentary about these animals in their African habitat. It just so happens that an action movie plays around them.
We see animals attract humans with a cuddly aura, and then watch them change their attitudes when natural instincts take control. There’s a scene between a lost lion and a naive Hank that brilliantly captures this transformation. The film also captures why sudden moves around these wild creatures is a moronic decision in any context.
It’s also undoubtably impressive how these actors carry a film while fighting for their safety. It turns the unintentional nature documentary into a twisted dark comedy for the audience. Marshall has his cast act frantically in front of the beasts, and forces them into inane situations. Miraculously, the actors are able to deliver. You have never seen how committed an actor can be before witnessing Melanie Griffith deliver lines as a lion tries to maul her.
Roar surprises audiences with its capability to be absolutely brilliant during unfathomable stupidity. The end credits suggest that Marshall and his friends have made this movie to bring more awareness to how beautiful wildlife can be. That message may be lost during mammal brawls and bloodshed, but the crew has crafted this film into something that’s unlike anything else you’ve ever seen.
Roar screens every Friday at Toronto’s The Royal Cinema until June 3.