"Ravenous" is a dark comedy thriller about cannibalismat an army post in the pre-Gold Rush Sierra Nevada. It's one of those high-conceptmovies that is easy to pitch to a studio head in 25 words or less by combiningtwo ideas into a sentence, in this case, "'Dances With Wolves' meetsthe Donner party."
Originally envisioned as more horror than parody, 20thCentury Fox changed directors early on because they wanted to emphasizethe humor angle, as the script was already rich with subtle irony -- ituses cannibalism as a metaphor for Manifest Destiny and drug addiction.
As a result of the change, the movie is often uncertainwhich way it wants to go, but once it finds its footing, the comedy elementsmix successfully into what is essentially a abstruse thriller.
"Ravenous" stars Guy Pearce ("L.A.Confidential") as Captain Boyd, a cowardlyarmy captain and accidental Mexican-American war hero, who is assignedto a California mountain fort full of oddball enlistees during the winterof 1847. There he helps rescue a pioneer named Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle,"The Full Monty"), who tells a harrowing taleof settlers trapped by a snowstorm who turned to cannibalism to stay alive,then developed an insatiable appetite for human flesh.
This campfire tale scene sets the mood for the film, Carlylegripping both his on-screen and off-screen audiences with all-too-vividstorytelling in the dungeon-like setting of the cold and dreary fort. "Thingsgot out of hand," he whispers. "I ate sparingly. Others did not."
The fort brigade, lead by commanding officer Hart (JeffreyJones), sets off to find the cave where the settlers put in and hopefullyrescue whatever is left of them, but Colqhoun isn't quite what he seemsand the rescue becomes something of a massacre, leaving Boyd having tofind his way back to the fort alone and with a badly broken leg.
"Ravenous" has several delicious (pardon thepun) twists, and I don't want to give too much away, but suffice to sayBoyd starts to feel the overwhelming urge to partake in ritualistic cannibalismafter making a survival decision in the wake of the cave carnage. Then,when he makes it back to the fort he finds his new commanding officer isno stranger to this same hunger.
The second half of the film is a matter of Boyd's strengthto resist this compulsion, and Pearce is brilliantly uncertain in his conviction.
Carlyle also give a calculating, evasive performance asthe frightened settler who turns out to be a startling kind of monster.There's an "Interview with the Vampire" element to the relationshipbetween these two men, Carlyle being something of a Lestat to Pearce'sLouis.
After a bit of comedic unease in the early going, directorAntonia Bird, who worked with Carlyle on "Priest," successfullybalances the film with ironic humor while maintaining a frightful facadethat likens itself to another movie about a mad cannibal -- "Silenceof the Lambs."
Aided by a oddly playful yet creepy accordion-and-banjoscore by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn, "Ravenous" is a littleimpudent in what it finds funny, but eventually settles into a facetious,Coen Brothers-style sense of humor.
Meanwhile, the darker elements of the movie make sportof the fear the film has been building in the audience, taking cues fromhorror movies for the last act showdown between reluctant hero Boyd andnot only his cannibalistic nemesis, but his own growing appetite for flesh.
Director Bird makes good use of the winter setting, bringingforward the harshness of the elements and giving every scene a cold, uncomfortableair that helps keep the audience edgy. And while the comedy seems questionableat first, she manages to bring it nicely into balance with the psychologicalterror at the center of the story.
"Ravenous" is definitely not a movie for thosewho don't consider themselves blessed with a sick sense of humor, but ifyou think you can stomach the topic of cannibalism with all it's visualaccouterments, it is an appetizing thriller.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 19th March 1999
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, ETIC Films, Engulf & Devour Productions Inc., Fox 2000 Pictures, Heyday Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 26
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Antonia Bird
Starring: Guy Pearce as Captain John Boyd, Robert Carlyle as Colonel Ives / F.W. Colqhoun, David Arquette as Private Cleaves, Jeremy Davies as Private Toffler, Neal McDonough as Private Reich, Stephen Spinella as Knox, Joseph Runningfox as George, Bill Brochtrup as Lindus, Sheila Tousey as Martha, Jeffrey Jones as Col. Hart, John Spencer as Gen. Slauson
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