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“ROAR” (FANTASTICA Film Review)

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“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” A simple yet effective phrase that not so subtly implies that bad ideas that lead to worse consequences are often rooted in a generally positive thought. And while that phrase is often applied to more dire situations, the phrase can also be applied to Noel Marshall (and friends…)’s ROAR, especially if your idea of hell is an isolated house filled and surrounded by wild, untrained lions and tigers.

Yes, the hype is true: ROAR is a movie that must be seen to be believed, with Noel Marshall, Tippi Hedren and the rest of their family and cast working among dangerous wild animals. In fact, the production was so dangerous that there is a prologue from Drafthouse Films stating 72 members of the cast and crew, including legendary cinematographer Jan de Bont, who was nearly scalped in a lion attack that would end up requiring 220 stitches to patch up. And the film certainly feels dangerous, with many cast members harboring legitimate fear in their eyes, adding an authenticity much akin to shooting a war movie with actual landmines and loaded guns. There’s not a safety blanket to be found in ROAR, which is as excruciating as it is hypnotic.

In fact, one might wager that ROAR works better as an experience than a film; whereas previous Drafthouse Films rediscoveries have either been forgotten masterpieces (WAKE IN FRIGHT), campy cult flicks (MIAMI CONNECTION) or undefinable insanity (THE VISITOR), they all have had a saving grace in the form of an engaging story, passionate filmmakers and unadulterated ambition. ROAR, on the other hand, is hardly a narrative at all, with the story stuck someplace between nature documentary, hijinx-laden family film and dramatic statement about animal preservation. ROAR sports some terrible dialogue and unintentional comedy in its efforts to be a legitimate film, but when all is said and done, the audience is paying much more attention to the hungry glares in the eyes of these wild animals than the filmmaking skill on display.

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But as an experience, ROAR is an absolutely unforgettable blast from the past; a callback to an era that will never exist again where filmmakers can do something as crazy as plunge his employees and family into a literal lion’s den. Whether its watch Tippi Hedren hang off the snout of a wild elephant as it effortlessly destroys her boat, Melanie Griffith pinned beneath the maw and claws of a lion on a kitchen floor or Noel Marshall speeding down a dirt road with two fully-grown tigers in the backseat, ROAR is a treasure trove of “holy shit” moments that take your breath away and replace it with endless nervous laughter. And once you add in just the sheer scope of the production, the film becomes simultaneously mesmerizing and morbid, especially when almost every scene of ROAR is punctuated by a “close call” that was a mere act of God away from turning it into a snuff film.

Now, with the improvements in home theaters and the ease of streaming services, you might be compelled to sit at home and rent the film on VOD, or wait for the eventual DVD/Blu-ray release. Let me assure you: if you’re near a Drafthouse location or any theater that may be playing ROAR, do not wait. ROAR is a film completely deserving of the theatrical experience, and the jaw-dropping and dangerous action on display is best viewed with a theater of similarly shocked patrons. In a weird way, this surreal, unassuming film about a conservationist whose family unwillingly arrives alone to his wild animal sanctuary is the ultimate party film, as the natural reaction you’ll have to tigers and lions pinning down actors will likely be just as gratifying as that of the people around you.

And don’t be mistaken: ROAR is not a “so bad it’s good” film, nor is the experience of viewing it meant to be ironic in any way. ROAR is absolutely, 100% bonkers, and is a passion project to Noel Marshall as the Creature was to Victor Frankenstein. It’s a cinematic experience where the mere making of the film supersedes the cheesiness of the story and its morality play, and you will never, ever see anything like ROAR ever again.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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