Roar ★★★½

My fear going into ROAR is that the novelty of watching actors get mauled by big cats would wear off within about 20 minutes. Thankfully, it has much more to offer, not just in terms of variety of situations in which to place these actors and lions, tigers, panthers, leopards, cheetahs etc, but also general head-scratching, brain-bubbling accidental surrealism. It's the kind of movie that is at once documentary-like and so completely alien (ON THE BOWERY and THE INTERRUPTERS come to mind as two unlikely comparisons) that it feels like teleportation. Leaving the theater after the movie, the real world looked strange without three or four giant felines in my field of vision at all times.

One thing I did not expect before seeing ROAR is that the movie addresses just how nuts the scenario (human beings surrounded by packs, and I do mean packs, of wild animals) is. The audience gets a surrogate in the form of an African character named Mativo, who every step of the way gets to say things like, "You are crazy" and "Why are you doing this" and "I don't want any part of this" (In a Skype Q&A with actor John Marshall, he noted that Mativo the eponymous actor very much wanted nothing to do with the animals in real life, and perhaps not-so-coincidentally was the only cast member to survive the filming unscathed). The actors in the film get to play frightened while they are very much being attacked by animals that are so out of control that they are given a writing and directing credit. There's a special kind of hilarity watching people trying to do their job while wild animals, who don't know or care what a movie is, do whatever they want often to the detriment of any given scene.

It's a mess, but a beautiful one, somehow captured by Jan de Bont in such a way that you would swear was planned and deliberate, even though it has to be pretty lose and spontaneous given the circumstances under which they were filming. There's a motorcycle chase that is one of the most stunning pieces of nature photography ever filmed, as well as probably one of the most reckless. It's easy to call this irresponsible and write it off, but I see it this way: everything captured on film already happened, there's no point in suppressing it. It would have been a shame and a true tragedy to let this go unreleased or unrecognized due to all of the hard work (literally blood, sweat and tears) that went into making it, misguided or not. At risk of sounding sycophantic, it's really great that Drafthouse Films and Olive Films are giving this its first official U.S. theatrical run and digital home video release.

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