Ravenous has a lot of black comedy elements that I missed when I saw it in theaters back in 1999. It’s strange what seventeen years can do to your perspective. Regardless Ravenous is a great film no matter how you cut and didn’t deserve the large amount of negative reviews it got upon its release. The black comedy and satirical elements are laid on a bit thick in place, but it’s those elements that’s really made Ravenous hold up over time. That and it’s loosely based on elements of both the Donner Party and Alferd Packer. Also, while Ravenous is supposedly a film about cannibalism, I would argue it’s more of creature feature with the Wendigo being the monster in question due to the strong supernatural element. Because as far as I know eating the flesh of another human doesn’t give you special abilities, like being able to heal from any wound.
After winning a medal and getting a promotion during a battle during the Mexican-American War, John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is sent away to a remote outpost in the Sierra Nevada’s. This is due to his winning of the medal in question as from actions born of cowardice, but not wanting to set a bad example. So rather than punish him, the military leaders simply shuffled him away. At the outpost he meets the skeleton crew that mans the outpost during the harsh winters, Col. Hart (Jeffery Jones), Pvt. Toffler (Jeremy Davies), Pvt. Cleaves (David Arquette), Pvt. Reich (Neal McDonough), Knox (Stephen Spinella), a Native American Scout George (Joseph Runningfox) and his sister Martha (Sheila Tousey). Short after arriving at the outpost the company discovers a man in the cold. After waking the man, Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) tells them his story. That he along with five others, including their leader Col. Ives had gotten lost crossing the Rockies three months prior. After running out of provisions they had resorted to Cannibalism, though after doing so their hungers changed becoming insatiable. After being reduced to being one of the last three alive, he had fled out of fear and had found the outpost by pure providence. After hearing his story, Col Hart gathers most of his men, as Martha and Pvt. Cleaves are away on a supply mission and Knox being to drunk to be of any use, heads out to rescue those they can. Before they leave, they’re warned by George of the Wendigo, a demon born when a man eats the flesh of another man and absorbs his strength, but gains an insatiable hunger for human flesh. When they arrive the at the camp site located in a cave, Boyd and Reich enter the cave to see if anyone is left alive. Inside they discover the remains of five people, and rush back to the others to warn them of the trap. Outside Colqhoun falls upon the resuce party, killing them one by one. When Boyd and Reich leave the cave, everyone is already killed and chase Colqhoun into the woods. Though once again falling into his trap as Reich is killed and falls off a cliff. A cliff that Boyd leaps from to escape Colqhoun after shooting him doesn’t stop him. The fall breaks on of his legs and Boyd becomes trapped in hole with Reich’s body. Eventually Boyd is reduced to eating Reich and after gain his strength resets his broken leg and makes his way back to the outpost traumatized. After telling his story and no one believing him and a new leader is sent to the outpost a Col. Ives, Colqhoun in disguise….
What always stuck with me was the scene of Pvt. Reich toughens up in a snowy river. At least that’s what I always assumed he was doing, that and the scene where he gets eaten. Both stuck out too much just as much after all these years. Though this time around I noticed how small a role all the supporting casts plays, with very little screen time. Most only around long enough to a vague idea of who they are before they get killed off half way through the film.
What also stuck out this time around was Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle. As both men come off as layered and very interesting. Mainly on how the two play off one another throughout the film. Represent two different outlooks on being a cannibal. With Pearce being forlorn and regretful in his performance and Carlyle comes of crazed, but also methodical and controlled.
The musical score also really stands out now that I’m old enough to really notice it. I find it amazing for how long I just took the musical scores in films for granted and I’m really sad that I didn’t remember this film for its outstanding music.
Final thoughts, Ravenous is a great film that’s well shot and beautifully scored. Though it does have a handful of flaws. Although all are so minor I don’t feel the need to point them out. The performances are fun and memorable. Though while the film is dark and it handles its subject matter with too much of a humorous edge to be truly unnerving. 9/10