I picked Ravenous to review based on three facts, 1 – the cover of the dvd, 2 – the decade it was made, I have done several post-millennial films recently (although as it was released in 1999 it only just fell into the category) and 3 – I hadn’t done a film about cannibals since Cannibal Holocaust back in July. Given these reasons for choosing it, it is needless to say that I didn’t really know anything about the film or what to expect before viewing.
Ravenous is set in California in the mid nineteenth century following Captain John Boyd, played by a rather stoic Guy Pearce (Momento, The Hurt Locker) on his new post at Fort Spencer, a remote outpost in the mountains. The film opens at Captain Boyd’s promotion ceremony where he has gained his promotion due to singlehandedly capturing a Mexican command camp in the Mexican-American war. However, in a series of flashbacks, we learn that Boyd managed to survive the massacre of his entire regiment by pretending to be dead. This act of cowardice is known by the General and hence his promotion has also earned him a ticket to the most remote outpost, the aforementioned Fort Spencer. As a portent of what is to come, the new Captain is served a very undercooked steak for lunch which along with the memories of the act that earned him the promotion, causes him to rapidly lose his lunch.
On arrival in Fort Spencer, Boyd meets an assortment of outcasts including affable but inept Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones, Sleepy Hollow), drunkard Major Knox (Stephen Spinella, Milk), a collection of Privates each more hopeless than the last and two Native Americans who lived there when the fort was founded. Shortly after Boyd’s arrival at the fort they find a half-dead man outside the walls. It turns out that the stranger is a man named Colqhoun, played by Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later) who was on his way through the mountains with a wagon train that got snowed in after trying a short cut. In the three months that they were trapped, Colqhoun and the others in the wagon train were forced to eat whatever was available, starting with the horse and oxen and culminating in human flesh. The story Colqhoun tells is a chilling one that really could have occurred in those times. It transpires that, through an act of cowardice of his own, Colqhoun has left the only woman in the party (50% of the female characters in the film) alone with the maniacal Colonel Ives. It is the duty of the soldiers at the fort to head into the mountains to rescue the lost travellers.
On arriving at the cave where the unfortunate travellers sought shelter it transpires that Colqhoun is in fact Ives and has lured them up there to replenish his supply of human meat. In the ensuing fight, Colqhoun manages to overpower and kill the soldiers except for Boyd who jumps off a cliff, landing in a ditch with a broken leg. Although Colqhoun searches for Boyd he is unable to find him and Boyd survives by eating the flesh of his dead comrade. The plot thickens as upon returning to the camp after an undisclosed period of time the replacement for Colonel Hart arrives and it is none other than Ives, a.k.a. the cannibalistic Colqhoun! Only Boyd knows this (as the others did not meet Ives in his previous incarnation) and things go steadily downhill for the Boyd and the fort. Will Boyd succumb to the flesh hunger or will he stop Ives before he destroys the whole fort?
There are no ‘perfect’ characters or heroes in the film, which makes a refreshing change, Boyd is plagued by cowardice and the rest of the men at the fort from afflictions ranging from anger issues to alcoholism. There are a number of well-known actors in Ravenous, all of which do a good job portraying their various character and their flaws. I found Carlyle’s portrayal of both Colqhoun and Ives to be amongst the best with the slightly deranged look of a man on the edge in evidence in the lost traveller which turns to sociopathic egomania in Ives.
Ravenous is based on the Native American myth of the Wendigo, that if a man consumes another’s flesh he takes their strength but is cursed to hunger for human flesh. It is an interesting idea, normally cannibals are portrayed as less civilised, either a remote forest tribe (e.g. Cannibal Holocaust) or inbred hillbillies (e.g. The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn). I think the idea that anyone, through circumstances out of their control could become a cannibalistic monster is far more disturbing than less “developed” (for lack of a better word) cannibals.
I would recommend Ravenous to as a film for anyone to watch (as long as they aren’t too squeamish about cannibalism). The main downside to the film is the lack of female characters, there are only two in the whole film and they are in very, very minor roles.
Rating: 4/5 (It lost one mark due to the lack of female characters)