Thomas (Connor O’Hara) has just turned nine, and his mother (Helen Teasdale) has agreed to split his birthday with the boy’s estranged father (Robert O’Hara). After a trip to Thomas’ grandmother’s (Anne Fraser) house and a brief outing to the beach, she drives him out of the city to an isolated cottage somewhere in the Lake District. With instructions to call her should any problems arise, Thomas is left in the care of a man who hasn’t seen him in years. Out in the country and away from the city’s digital distractions, Thomas begins to explore the natural world — becoming increasingly fixated on death and decay as he does.
With writer-director Erik Knudsen also credited as cinematographer and editor, and various other members of the crew assuming dual roles on the movie, you want to be able to say nice things about it. This is clearly a passion project, and a lot of work must have gone into its execution. But as nice as the film might look (courtesy of its Lake District setting) and as competent as the performances might be (the O’Haras do a decent enough job, all things considered) there’s no getting away from the fact that The
It’s not entirely clear what Knudsen is hoping to achieve with his film. Is it an indictment of technology? Are we supposed to assume that it is Thomas’ obsession with video games that predisposes him to chase birds with his remote-controlled car and later aim at them with his homemade slingshot? There’s an animated cut scene early on which implies that he sees the world as a platformer game but that’s swiftly dropped until much later in the film — only to remain unexplained and unresolved. Or is it a meditation on divorce, and the unintended side-effects of leaving a boy to grow up without his father? As for the eponymous raven: what is it supposed to represent, if anything? I guess we’ll never know.
Knudsen’s direction is more successful than his screenplay. The framing is fine but a largely static camera compounds an already stilted experience in a film severely lacking in fluidity or dynamo. Attaching the camera to Thomas’ mothers car solves the problem for a time, but once he’s in the company of his father things once again grind to a halt. Instead the characters spend their time walking towards or away from the camera, but perspective is no substitute for motion — particularly in a motion picture. There’s precious little dialogue either as Thomas is for some reason mute, meaning that there is often nothing to listen to but un-filtered background noise picked up by the boom mic. Whether intentional or not, the soundtrack consists mostly of bird call and wind.
Really, the only remarkable thing about The Raven on the Jetty is the filmmakers’ apparently devil-may-care approach to health and safety. Bored of the unending silence and stillness, the mind is as quick to wander as the eye. The risk assessment must have been longer than the script, you can’t help but muse, as O’Hara picks up an axe, leans over a well, spies on a naked woman, pokes a dead bird and hops over a barbed wire fence. At first you think it might be leading somewhere (down said well, perhaps), but like everything else in the film it ultimately serves no purpose at all.