Take a Drink: anytime someone has someone else for dinner
Take a Drink: for the body-count
Drink a Shot: anytime someone mentions the Wendigo
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
It is the 1840s and the Mexican-American war is raging in the southwest. In an act of unintentional heroism (and fully intentional cowardice) Lt. John Boyd (Guy Pearce) manages to capture an enemy fort by himself by playing dead when his comrades around him are killed off. His commanders decorate Boyd with a promotion to Captain officially, but knowing of his behavior, reassign him to a meaningless Sierra-Nevada outpost staffed by just seven other people. On his first night a ragged looking man stumbles into the fort and collapses. When revived, he confesses that he has been trapped in the mountains for months, and he and his party were eventually forced to eat the bodies of their dead. The army officers (including Boyd) trek into the mountains to find the location of the disaster, and hopefully save the life of a woman still stranded. All is not as it seems, however, as it turns out that the man who found them has some evil plans of his own.
Cannibalism is a frightening concept which has been used in many a low-budget indie horror film, but very rarely has the practice been explored for comedic value. This is the double-edged sword that is Ravenous, which manages a challenging task of making the act of murderous hunger a target of satire.
Director Antonia Bird was far more well known for her work on British television, and yet the style she injects into Ravenous is nothing short of cinematic. Feeling at times large and epic and in others small and claustrophobic, Bird’s stamp on the film is in creating an otherworldly feel that is impossible for the audience to grab a hold of. At times blackly comic, and in others horrifying, it is simply fascinating how quickly and with such reckless abandon the film changes tone.
Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeffrey Jones, Neal McDonough, and the rest of the cast all manage to make a deep impression, even given the relatively short screen time of some of them.
Even as strange and campy as the characters can be at times, they still feel like individuals, and their fates are of deep importance to the viewer, even as the director treats them with such a dispensable nature.
The film’s music, composed by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn, is a confounding mix of atonal sound loops mixed with period-folk instrumentation. It sets a very uneasy tone, fusing Western elements with that of a slasher, the results being wonderfully eerie.
At times the already irregular pacing of the film can fly off the hinges, and test the viewer’s patience. The final act of the film in particular feels incomplete and rushed, which is unfortunate given how much time is given to setting up the story in the first two parts. I can’t help but wish that a little more time and attention was paid to this aspect.
And speaking of the film’s final act, the final confrontation feels like somewhat of a letdown, being little more than a conventional fight between hero and villain. For a movie with so much intelligence and creativity early-on, it is a shame that the climax is essentially just a big dumb fight scene. It seems like something more clever was warranted for a film that is otherwise so daring.
You’ll often find yourself puzzling over the directoral decisions, and yet somehow it all ties together neatly into one of the most engaging cult films of the 1990s.