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In terms of your baser psychological fears, the monster-in-the-dark is probably the most deep-seeded, one that is easiest to identify with. There’s something primal about steering clear of long shadows, the unknown a little too much to face. That said, it also feeds an entire genre of horror films, to varying degrees of success, with the low budget fare churning out what seems like dozens a year, all variations on the same theme. There are creatures in the night hungry for blood or souls or whatever and they like young people best.
The Raking is another creature feature off the assembly that centers on a group of university students whose final project is to research an urban legend, so after the unlikely group of misfits decide on a subject, they head into the desert to camp at Joshua Tree in hopes of uncovering the truth about a monster called The Rake, a named earned for it extra long fingernails.
There’s hot blonde Kennedy (Cree Kelly) and her goth roommate Jade (Allie Rivera), who can barely stand each other. There’s also Noah (Thatcher Robinson), a nerdy type with a crush on Jade who brings the cameras, and Jade’s little sister Kelly (Marisa Davila) who stows away. With them is their class T.A., Ethan (Bryan Brewer), a man who year earlier as a very young child lost his parents in the desert to a monster with claws he thinks is just a bad memory. You can be sure it is not.
Directed by Bryan Brewer, The Raking is a familiar story if not an inspired one, and if you’ve seen the recent horror anthology XX, will feel like an extended or alternative version of Roxanne Benjamin‘s contribution, Don’t Fall. On a micro-budget, Brewer uses practical effects with a man in costume (Alan Maxson) playing the titular monster, a returning trend that is admittedly kind of refreshing. Maxson is actually pretty effective as the monster, lending some chilling authenticity to the production, even if it is for a limited time.
What Brewer does do differently from most in this genre is to spend a lot more time with the characters in an attempt to develop some depth. That’s perhaps best done with a newcomer to the group named James (Marshal Hilton), an older man who gives the group some shelter and shares some stories of his own horrors. He has the obligatory haggard disposition but does well in the small part. If anything, surprisingly, acting isn’t really the issue, as the young cast all have some good moments. The problem is the pacing and extreme length. At only an hour and forty minutes, that might seem like an exaggeration, but with a number of extended slow moments that really bog down what should be more fast-paced, it cuts the tension. Mixed with a barrel-full of clichés from cars that won’t start to cellphone batteries that die, to tripping while running, to that blown out fuse box and many more, there’s not much in terms of innovation.
For fans of indie horror, there will be some fun, with a good-looking cast and a decent script. The Raking isn’t breaking new ground and could have had another run in editing to trim it back, but it holds its own in the genre.
Movie description: The Raking is a 2017 independent horror movie about a group of co-ed students on a research project who discover a terrifying monster living in the desert.
Director(s): Bryan Brewer
Actor(s): Bryan Brewer, Cree Kelly, Allie Rivera