By Ken Hall.
They would answer his questions but they couldn’t answer why.”
The Ravine, “a combination of noir, suspense, and spiritual and fantastic elements,” as I described in my review of the film for Retreats from Oblivion, uses these elements to avoid becoming “an ordinary inspirational piece.”
I caught up with Keoni Waxman, co-writer and director of the film, who offered an approachable and revealing discussion.
What was it that most interested you in that project?
The novel was brought to me, and I was asked to take a read and see what I thought of it. And when I read it, I thought oh, this could be a cool thriller, it’s based on a murder-suicide and a real incident. But reading the book I realized, this is less about the incident and more about the collateral damage and the people. And then, meeting the authors, who wrote the book about themselves, I realized, you know, they wrote a book, and they want to make a movie based on their healing from this incident. So to me it became really interesting—I would be making not a whodunit but a whydunit, and I would be kind of turning it inside out, because it’s not about the incident; it’s more about the people who were left behind. Which is a little different from what I normally do.
Yes, that’s right. The Pascuzzis were the Biancis?
Yeah. Mitch and Carolyn were Robert and Kelly Pascuzzi.
I noticed that you were using a lot of flashbacks. And you’ve got two detectives there. And the unofficial one goes after the motive. And the official one, for a while anyway, he sort of stuck with the facts, didn’t he?
I think again this goes back to the novel, it goes back to when Robert was writing the novel, he was doing a lot of research. I mean, really what happened, is that Kelly ended up really leaning into faith, leaning into trying to figure things out, this is where the Joanna connection comes. Whereas Robert was really working towards trying to figure out and make logical sense of what happened. And those two journeys, those two motivations collide for the husband and wife because they both realize that they’re not going to find an answer, you know, they just have to decide to move on, otherwise they’re going to be the next victim, right? Their marriage, themselves. . . . But you also have Joanna from the Carolyn side who can provide answers but mainly from a sort of a stepped-back position. And that’s what the detective in the movie actually ends up being is someone who can say, look, this is what we know, this is maybe not what you’re looking for, to Mitch. And Robert told me that when he spoke to the different police involved it was a similar feeling. He felt like they were willing to provide him everything but answers. They would answer his questions but they couldn’t answer why.
And actually Joanna never really answers why, does she?
I think her response, whereas it’s not as direct as the detective’s, but her response is like, these things happen. . . . And this is kind of why we set in New Orleans, where you have more of an open mindset, to not just the supernatural, but history and so forth. So her point of view is these things happen. So you guys can either keep moving, it’s almost like a ministry right? You can either keep moving or you can keep being pissed off.
But one way or another, this is the conclusion. We tell you at the very beginning of the movie who did it. So a lot of it is more about how do you process it.
I guess you did some shooting in Romania?
Yeah, it’s a great place. I’ve shot there a lot in Bucharest. The reason why we went there for this film is because of my familiarity and I have crews there, and I work with this specific studio in Bucharest to shoot these action movies. But in the novel, it’s important that nobody’s there when it happens, meaning, Tony’s not there, Danny’s brother’s not in town, because it brings Mitch and Carolyn in because they’re the only ones who are nearby who can actually kind of, you know, jump in and administer at first. So we wanted to maintain that they were overseas, a different time, something different. . . . It was supposed to be on the Amalfi coast in the book. . . . And because I’ve shot in Romania, I said why don’t we go there and call it somewhere in the Alps? So we went to Romania, we went to outside of Timišoara, actually, about five hours into Transylvania. And shot it out there, in a little town. And it was beautiful, just two days of it. And that was our last two days of shooting.
So the ravine was where? The physical ravine in the film?
The ravine was in St. Francisville in Louisiana. . . . But the opening when we see Tony at the ski resort and he gets the phone call and he drives home, that was in Romania. . . . St. Francisville is about 2 1/2 hours out of New Orleans. So we went up there and stayed there. . . . The ravine is beautiful.
When you’re editing a film you have to decide what the language is. You can do something very straightforward, or, these days you can jump all over the place. Sometimes, as long as it’s not jarring, you want to be ambiguous.”
Was it natural or was it a mining thing?
Yeah, it’s actually a natural ravine. We looked everywhere. We were looking everywhere for this location, because the movie is called The Ravine. In reality the car went off the cliff down into a ravine. I think it was a quarry. What I wanted to find was something that was not just stunning visually, but also sort of metaphorical. My favorite part of that movie isn’t necessarily when the car goes off the edge. It’s when we come back from the past to Joanna and she’s there and we show her at that cliff’s edge. Because to me that’s sort of symbolic of what Joanna is. She’s always standing at the edge of that cliff going, you can either fall off the edge or you can come back from it. It’s a stunning location.
I noticed something else that I wanted to ask you about, a technical thing. . . . I thought I noticed near the end in The Ravine, with scenes with Joanna, I thought I noticed a flashforward or two, with Joanna talking to them, and then they’re in the car looking over the ravine. And that looks like a flashforward to me.
Yes. Yes. . . . When you’re editing a film you have to decide what the language is. You can do something very straightforward, or, these days you can jump all over the place. Sometimes, as long as it’s not jarring, you want to be ambiguous. Ambiguity’s good. When you find a technique that works you try to figure out where you can use it again later. And if you find the right place it’s great.
So if you’re using that flashforward, are you trying to . . . show that the events are sort of circular?
Yeah, that’s it exactly. . . . Because the idea is that a lot of times, people, their memory is about the same thing, right? You may be ten years down the road, ten minutes down the road, ten feet down the road, but you’re thinking about the past, or vice versa, you’re thinking about where you’re going. And the idea is that sometimes even when you’re lost in the moment it’s a circular thing. And visually you can do that, you know, in movies. If you think about it, in commercials, in music videos, and so forth, people do it all the time because that language is almost expected, right? Because it’s sort of visually interesting. But in the narrative it has to actually make narrative sense. So it’s a little trickier to use it. But that’s the idea.
You must have been glad to get Leslie Uggams. She seems a nice person, very spiritual.
Oh, I love Leslie. Yeah. Absolutely. She was great. She’s a lovely person, beautiful person.
Did the Pascuzzis have any kind of role in the casting?
No. . . . I think that their presence was felt. They were there from the very beginning to the end. They helped produce the film. So they had a lot of questions asked of them and a lot of answers to provide as creative input. But I think that other than their role as executive producers and obviously writing the story . . . I think their bigger role I would say would be being on set and being there for the crew and inspiring the crew and inspiring the cast. Everybody really wanted to do well by them because everybody knew that this was a process for them. . . . And it was something very personal.
Ken Hall (Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1986; MA, University of NC-Chapel Hill, 1978) is professor emeritus of Spanish at ETSU, where he had taught since 1999, and a regular contributor to Film International and Retreats from Oblivion: The Journal of NoirCon. His publications include Professionals in Western Film and Fiction (McFarland, 2019), John Woo: The Films (McFarland,  2012), John Woo’s The Killer (Hong Kong University Press, 2009), Stonewall Jackson and Religious Faith in Military Command (McFarland, 2005) and Guillermo Cabrera Infante and the Cinema (Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs, 1989).