Carnivore: American Psycho meets Agatha Christie in an elegant and minimalist thriller

Constance Tsang, “Carnivore” (2018)

Elegant in style and minimalist and understated in its narrative, this is a very wry satire on the culture of the cut-throat financial industry where to get ahead, one has to shoot down so many live bodies and crawl over the corpses, sacrificing one’s principles along the way until one becomes as hollowed out and spiritually destitute as all the others who have gone before and who will come after. Young hedge fund managers Ahana (Annapurna Sriram) and Michael (Chris Perfetti), newly promoted, are invited to meet the senior partners and managers at the country home of one of the firm’s owners, a lady called Christine (Leslie Hendrix). As soon as they arrive, Ahana and Michael are required to surrender their mobile phones and keys – a sign that makes viewers go, uh-oh. Sure enough, while Michael seems to slot into the company of mostly middle-aged Caucasian Anglo-Saxon Protestant types born into old money and landed North American gentry, Ahana – a young woman of Indian ancestry whose religion requires her to be vegetarian and to refrain from alcohol – has more trouble fitting in. Initially she is surprised, then despondent and dejected – but then Ahana makes up her mind to make and break her way through the invisible glass barrier and make the owners, partners and senior execs notice her.

On the second day of the corporate retreat, Ahana and Michael are invited to go hunting with the firm’s owners and the senior people. The two young managers get a quick training in the use of highly sophisticated hunting rifles, complete with optical scopes. The hunting party then walks out into the grounds … but what exactly is the quarry? While they spread out through the forest, Ahana and Michael are separated from the others, at which point Michael blags to Ahana that she’s too nice a person to be working at such a firm where the law of the concrete jungle rules and she’d probably be better off running a charity foundation …

Well sure enough – BLAM! – and the hunting party soon gathers around the shooting victim with Christine congratulating the shooter and exclaiming that dinner is going to served early. Guess who will be the guest of honour and who will be served the biggest and juiciest piece of … steak?

Set out very much like an Agatha Christie novel, complete with snooty arrogant upper class folks who take for granted their landed-aristocracy privileges, “Carnivore” is a cool and collected slow-burner, of which its deliberately understated style underlines the tension between Ahana and Michael as each strives to outdo each other in conforming and sucking up to the firm’s senior hierarchy. Sriram does a great job as Ahana in undergoing a considerable transformation from doe-eyed innocent to steely predator; the film is really all hers and everyone else just hovers around her. The one thing that is missing is some little indication in Ahana’s expression, a little tear perhaps, that something in her that was good and moral has died.

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