Keoni Waxman on his character driven thriller ‘The Ravine’

(L-R) Teri Polo as Carolyn Bianci and Eric Dane as Mitch Bianci in the thriller, THE RAVINE, a Cinedigm release. Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.
Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.

Keoni Waxman adapts the haunting thriller and bestselling novel “The Ravine” by Robert and Kelly Pascuzzi to the big screen.

Inspired by the true events, The Ravine is about an unspeakable crime that rocks a peaceful community, where family and friends are left to wonder if they overlooked the murderer among them or if there might be more to the story. This haunting thriller stars Eric Dane (“Euphoria”), Teri Polo (Meet the Parents), Peter Facinelli (The Vanished), Byron Mann (The Big Short), Leslie Uggams (Deadpool) and Kyle Lowder (“Days of Our Live”).

The Ravine was written and directed by Keoni Waxman (The Hard Way). It was co-written with Kelly Pascuzzi and Robert Pascuzzi whose book “The Ravine” is the basis for the film. 

Check out my interview with Keoni!

So The Ravine was inspired by a true story, what exactly does that mean?

Keoni: Well, the short answer is that it’s based on a real incident, a murder suicide that happened to not just the writers of the novel, but who the eventual executive producer of the film. And what happened is that this incident happened in their lives. In order to heal and to figure out how to move forward from it, because it really was tearing them apart, you have survivor’s guilt of all the questions of faith and family and friends, what you knew, what you didn’t, they processed it by writing this novel. And really the novel became more about them being able to sort it out and go forward in their lives without feeling as though they caused it or maybe could have prevented it. When I read this novel, I thought, ‘this is a really great thriller, but from a survivor’s point of view.’ But also, in the novel, they leaned a lot on their faith and I thought, ‘okay, this is great, but how do you open this up so that it’s not such a personal thing?’ And we decided to set it down in New Orleans where you can make it more of a spiritual understanding. And so by the time we came out with the film, it obviously has an inciting incident that’s the same, but it really is now more about the collateral damage than the actual inciting incident.

What I liked about the movie was that it went back and forth. What inspired you to tell it nonlinearly like this?

Keoni: The easy answer to that is because it’s based on a novel and you’re dealing with chapter headings and you’re dealing with different points of view. And so, as you’re trying to turn essentially a scattershot view of an incident into a 90 minute three act structure, you have to figure out exactly what stays and what goes. But so much of it was interesting to me because so much of the novel wasn’t about the murder. So much of the novel was about what happened after and then you realize so much of the novel was about what happened before because you have survivors trying to figure out, ‘should we have seen it coming?’ So with that said, when I was adapting it, I thought it might be great to be able to actually use the characters as plot points as opposed to- and I do a lot of action movies where plot is everything and character service plot, but here, the plot can be serviced by the characters and what they know. So, what I decided to do was try to interpret it in terms of big chunks of time, like a novel, but then as we started cutting and editing the film, and especially when Teri Polo’s character gets the news that this terrible thing has happened and then she has to break it to her kids, I didn’t really feel as though you want to see a mom telling three little boys that this just happened to their best friend. And if you see it from her point of view, it’s disjointed, she’s thinking about what happened before, she’s thinking about what she told him, she’s thinking about after and suddenly that becomes the same sort of storytelling as a chapter storytelling. And so really, the entire sort of editorial style kind of came out based on the fact that it’s more character driven than plot driven…

It just doesn’t always work, but I love it when it works, because when it works, you feel it so much more because of the juxtaposition, you know? It’s a more contemporary form of storytelling that I think is actually becoming more and more not just acceptable, but sort of the norm now.

Peter Facinelli as Danny Turner in the thriller, THE RAVINE, a Cinedigm release. Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.
What was it like working with the cast?

Keoni: Oh, it was great! And it’s interesting because there’s two things: one, everyone involved really believed in the project and really, everyone involved really believed in what it was about. It wasn’t about making a thriller or telling a story. This really was about the idea that it was pretty personal, and I say that, obviously as this is something that happened to the people who wrote the novel. This is something that happened to the people who want to turn it into a movie. This is something that happened to our executive producers of the film who were on set watching. Everyone involved, from crew to cast, understood that it was a long healing process for them, so everyone from crew to cast understood that this is something that whether it’s their cup of tea or not, you want to understand the gravity and the importance of what people are doing and everyone was respectful of that. On the one hand that permeated the set, which was great, and then the other side is that you’re working with pros like Eric (Dane) and Teri and Peter (Facinelli), and Leslie Uggams, of course, and Byron Mann, and everyone else, all the local casting, everybody were really great. They were such a strong cast. And then the third part is we’re New Orleans. It’s awful hard not to go and eat a lot of really good food. So the flip side was that when you’re there, you’re trying to focus on work and not focus on the fact that you’re living in New Orleans for a while, making a movie.

What do you hope the audience takes away from watching this movie?

Keoni: I hope that first off, they’ll be entertained. I hope they go, ‘that was cool,’ you know, two hours well spent. I hope they think about it, which is really what you want from any movie. For this one in particular, I hope that they go, ‘that was a little different than what I normally see in a film,’ and I hope they like the performances and like how it looks. I do a lot of action movies that are more genre based. And with that, you want people to be entertained, you know, from first frame to last. This was a little more freeform, and you want people to feel as though they were just told a story that resonated with them and they will see again. You want it to affect them.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Keoni: If you see the film and I hope people go and see the film, I just hope that they see it for what it is, which is a thriller that ideally touches on what people feel about an incident as opposed to just solves the murder. And I think that’s something that in today’s day and age, it’s something that people can resonate with, for sure. 

Teri Polo as Carolyn Bianci in the thriller, THE RAVINE, a Cinedigm release. Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.
The Ravine will be available in Theaters and on VOD and Digital May 6.