“The Raking” (2017): University-Project Trip Turns Harrowing in Impactful Creature Feature

Bryan Brewer is the director, star, and cowriter of the creature feature The Raking, and he manages more than just pulling off each job admirably. He has created a captivating horror movie highlighted by solid performances and a nifty-looking monster design.

A group of university acquaintances – to call them friends would be stretching their relationships a bit – travels to Joshua Tree National Park in search of an urban legend for a school assignment. Viewers know because of an opening segment set in the past that the students are headed for an encounter with a savage beast that is no mere legend. They would be wise to listen to the warnings of local resident James (Marshal Hilton) to find somewhere else to camp for the night, but that would make for a very short movie, and probably not a very scary one. So against what would later turn out to be sage advice, they forge ahead with their plans.

A couple of problems from which many creature features, especially low-budget independent efforts, suffer is in stock characters given little to do between monster feedings, along with subar acting. Thankfully The Raking aims high and delivers for the most part, adding an extra touch of humanity to its characters. The cast rises to the occasion and delivers scenes of drama that allow viewers to connect with these characters more so than in similar indie efforts. Bryan Brewer and cowriter Laura Greenman Heine serve up some well-crafted dialogue to go along with the suspenseful world that they build. Marshal Hilton in particular gets to shine with a monologue in which his character talks about an incident with his brother. The scene is given time to slowly unfold, and Hilton uses dramatic pauses and facial expressions to breathe life into his portrayal of James, making the character much more than a stock local with vengeance on his mind.

The rest of the cast gives sound turns, as well. Allie Rivera is engaging as the complex Jade, a driven student with a counterculture vibe. Cree Kelly plays her spiteful roommate Kennedy wonderfully, showing viewers her character’s naughty and vulnerable sides. Thatcher Robinson is appealing as Noah, a nerdy student whose character was wisely written to stretch beyond mere trope territory. Marisa Davila gives a nice turn as Jade’s younger sister Kelly. Bryan Brewer gives an astute portrayal of Ethan, a teaching assistant in a secret relationship with Kennedy who is thrust into the leadership role of the group once trouble starts.

The Raking is a practical effects creature feature, so let’s turn our attention to the monster, which was designed by MORBAX FX’s Eric Fox, a contestant on Syfy’s Face Off season 4. Fox has created a terrific looking monster suit and the filmmakers are not shy about showing it in detail. Thankfully it holds up to scrutiny. Creature actor Alan Maxson brings the beast to life beautifully. Fox and the makeup department also do superb work on the gore effects, with plenty of carnage from the monster’s rampages on display.

Kevin McNamara and Scott McNamara share cinematography duties and both do accomplished work, with a variety of techniques on display. Bryan Brewer has a keen eye for framing, and he helms the movie adeptly. He builds up tension slowly, adding to the eeriness of the proceedings.

The Raking is a welcome entry into the monster movie genre that isn’t hindered by its low budget. Bryan Brewer and his cast and crew have done a bang-up job, and this movie deserves to find a wide audience among creature feature aficionados.  

The Raking: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

DVD Available on Amazon MOD and Family Video Stores March 7th, 2017.
Available on: Amazon, Itunes, Google Play, Vimeo, Xbox, Flix Fling, Vudu, Youtube, and Cable VOD.

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.