Lin Oeding’s Braven thrives on both the beauty of its natural, snowbound surroundings and the brutal instincts of man. And its protagonist, Joe Braven (Jason Momoa), a hulking physical specimen who’s an accomplished outdoorsman and a tender, loving husband and father, is the perfect embodiment of this stark contrast. Joe is a soft-spoken, no-nonsense truck driver whose life appears to be rather commonplace until his father, Linden (Stephen Lang), begins showing severe signs of Alzheimer’s.
After stepping in to protect Linden during a bar fight, Joe takes his old man, who’s in denial about his mental competence, out to the family cabin to confront him about what can be done to keep him out of trouble without having to stick him in a retirement home. Though it’s apparent that Linden’s obstinacy has been a thorn in Joe’s side for some time, it comes in handy when the father-son duo stumble across a giant bag of drugs that, unbeknownst to Joe, his friend and co-worker, Weston (Brendan Fletcher), had recently stashed in the cabin for the night after crashing his truck nearby.
At this point, Braven becomes a taut action thriller that squeezes every penny out of its meager budget. When the film’s big bad, Kassen, played with bemused detachment by Garret Dillahunt, arrives with a crew of thugs to collect the goods, Joe and his father quickly discern that these aren’t the kind of men who will simply drive off and leave witnesses alive, even if the drugs are handed over without resistance. And after sensing that Kassen’s men are surrounding the cabin, Joe and Linden ready themselves for battle by scrambling to load a few weapons and shutting the curtains.
Oeding’s direction makes effective use of the cabin’s small interior while also transforming the heavily wooded and mountainous surrounding area into a labyrinth which Joe, his father, and, eventually, even Joe’s wife, Stephanie (Jill Wagner), use to their strategic advantage during their stand-off against Kassen’s men. Braven generates tension from the clean simplicity of its conflict and plotting, much of which revolves around Joe and his military veteran father’s pragmatic and instinctive reactions to the developing siege. The film wisely keeps the dialogue to a minimum, stripping away all distractions to home in on the tactical details of its lengthy showdown.
Though Braven indulges in absurdly over-the-top attacks involving white-hot fireplace tongs and a flaming axe, these flare-ups are still in line with how the action springs directly from the raw materials that Joe and Linden have at their immediate disposal. And while it never finds a satisfying arc for its central father-son relationship, and its budgetary constraints become especially apparent during the CGI-addled climax, Braven is more often than not the sort of scaled-down, sure-footed, and efficient action film that the hyper-saturated video-on-demand market needs more of.