Picture yourself in the middle of the desert, surrounded by darkness, with only a flashlight to illuminate your path. In silence you push forward, slowly, cautiously, the only sounds those of rocks and twigs which crunch beneath your feet. All of a sudden, you hear a shrub thrashing behind you. You whip your flashlight around, shining it at the disrupted shrub and catch in the torch’s beam the tail end of… something. Your heart pounds intensely, as if trying to escape your chest. You breathe faster, to accommodate for the amount of blood your heart is pumping. You’ve entered full panic mode. Several twigs snap to your left, only this time it’s followed by some monstrous growls. The desert silence is now replaced by a frenzy of movement: which you now realize is circling you. Stalking you. You are its next victim.
You’re only hope… is to STAY IN THE LIGHT.
This is the world that our characters become familiar with throughout Lesson 1 Entertainment’s micro-budget feature The Raking. Directed by star Bryan Brewer from a script he co-wrote and produced with producer and writer Laura Heine, the film is based on the urban legend of The Rake (its moniker stems from the creature’s reportedly freakishly long, razor sharp fingers), and is set in the barren environs of the American desert: a perfect setting for a horror flick.
Effectively host to such horror franchises as The Hills Have Eyes, Tremors, and The Hitcher series, the desolate location assists The Raking (as it did its predecessors) in immediately placing the film’s protagonists (and the audience) in survival mode. Unforgiving by nature, the location mirrors the film’s titular creature, who on this night has set its sights on a group of college students who’ve set out to debunk the legend for their anthropology thesis. Spoiler alert, they get more than the bargain for, but you’ll just have to find out exactly how much for yourself.
As for the execution of the creature, the production decided to deliver it practically, eschewing CG for the classic “man in a suit” approach, and for the most part, it really works. In an effort to do this, producers Brewer, Heine and Allie Rivera (who also stars) enlisted the talents of SyFy’s Face-Off Season 4 contestant Eric Fox, who together with creature actor Alan Maxson, worked to deliver the creepy goods.
From the film’s opening scenes, in which we witness The Rake maraud a mother, father and their young son Ethan (Brock Brenner, who delivers a terrific performance as a younger version of Brewer’s character) stranded alongside a desert road, the filmmakers and their creature succeed in building a palpable tension. Glimpses of the family’s humanoid stalker are teased throughout (also in classic monster movie fashion), until one by one, they are dragged off into the night.
Flash-forward a couple of decades to a dorm room in Los Angeles, in which we find the now mature Ethan (he somehow survived that ill-fated night) lustfully carrying on a relationship with college student Kennedy (actress Cree Kelly). Exposition heavy, the pair hatch a plan along with Kennedy’s frenemy Jade (Rivera), bookish Noah (Thatcher Robinson) and stowaway Marisa Davila to embark on the previously mentioned desert expedition. A couple of scenes later, enter the film’s Crazy Ralph character James (actor Marshall Hilton), who in tried and true horror film fashion issues them a warning upon their desert arrival; “Tonight ain’t a good night for camping. It just ain’t.”
And it isn’t, because as the film plays out the titular creature reappears, and with it the traveler’s ranks dwindle. Forced into a cabin in an attempt to survive, panic ensues, and the subsequent carnage The Rake leaves in its wake is exactly what this creature feature aficionado desired.
There’s some stand out performances here, but my personal favorite came from Hilton. Each time he graced the screen, he reminded me of a mix of Burt from Tremors and an alcoholic Van Helsing, given his past trauma-inducing experiences with The Rake (and his resultant non-stop swigs from his flask). He also provided one of the more clever inclusions in the script; his knowledge of the creature’s aversion to light, which itself provides some of more entertaining narrative sequences in the film, along with some of the more frustrating – but don’t worry, it’s a good frustration.
All in all, The Raking is a great representation of the ambition of today’s young, future filmmakers. With studios lowering budgets yet expecting heightened production values, Lesson 1 has shown what can be done on the indie level within a micro-budget business model, which in this case was to deliver a fun monster flick, with a creature you won’t soon forget.