Crow (2016)

“Why are we called Crow, dad?”

“You see, the Crow, son, it’s a sign, it’s an omen for change. There’s Crow, and reverse Crow. And light-dark merge, and inside, outside, they come together. There’s no such thing as time. Just a void. Do you understand, son? Good lad. That’s why we’re the Crow tribe.”

If you do not understand, that might be because young Crow (Tom Rhys Harries), damaged while still inside his mother’s womb, has always been a bit slow, a bit addled in his brain – and his father (Danny Webb), a marginalised traveller, likes to keep Crow entertained with tales of empowerment and wonder. Now that Crow has become isolated, those strange stories of his father have taken root in his imagination – and as Crow, encamped in the woods. imparts his own crazed story to his even more damaged guardian Harley (Andrew Howard), scenes are infused with fairytale logic and shown out of order in a confusion of chronology (“there’s no such thing as time”) – while, underneath all this forest-set fantasy, a harsher, less acceptable reality lies buried. “You don’t think I’m crazy, do you, Harley?”, Crow asks his addressee – but the fact that Harley is sitting there, bloody, unresponsive and practically comatose, as Crow rants at him, leaves the strong impression that our narrator’s state of mind may not be so reliable.

Or at least that is one reading. For as Wyndham Price’s Crow traces the ideological – and eventually physical – clash between ecological warrior Crow and ruthlessly woods-destroying city suit Tucker (Nick Moran), we are never quite sure whether Crow is a vulnerable young man driven by trauma to psychosis and even murder, or whether perhaps he might be a holy fool and the divine embodiment of nature’s revenge. Either way, as Tucker sets out to fell ancient woodland so that he can build a dream home for himself and his increasingly sceptical trophy wife Alicia (Elen Rhys), the acts of bullying, corruption and criminal violence in which he engages to clear the path to his hubristic ambition will be met with a simpler brand of guerrilla aggression whose instruments are the bramble, the stake and the well-whetted machete.

In an idyllic landscape where the impulses of a self-serving, masculine modernity encroach upon the borders of a magical realist past, Price works through a dialectic between the values of pagan conservatism and contemporary progress-for-its-own-sake. Neither Crow nor Tucker is exactly likeable, and both are willing to do terrible things for their separate causes – but Tucker is so cartoonishly wicked in his environmental transgressions that our sympathies are inevitably stacked against his worldview.

Whether they are to be taken literally, or merely as a reflection of Crow’s fable-fuelled perspective, Nature’s more mysteriously supernatural aspects are here rendered through some very impressive ‘organic’-looking CGI that comes to encapsulate the film’s central conflict between nature and technology. In theme, Crow evokes both Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke (1997) and Corin Hardy’s The Hallow (2015). A cameo by Terence Stamp as the (possibly imagined) ‘Great Crow’, who furnishes much mythomaniac mumbo jumbo while guiding the protagonist’s errant actions, also recalls the TV children’s series Raven – and more specifically its presenter James Mackenzie dressed in his similar black feathers. Whether this is seen as accurately reflecting Crow’s childish fantasy (although he doesn’t appear to be a fan of television), or just being a little silly, is left for the viewer to decide. Because there’s Crow, and reverse Crow…

© Anton Bitel