Rating -

Comedy / Drama / Horror (US); 1999; Rated R; 100 Minutes

Guy Pearce:
Captain John Boyd
Robert Carlyle: Colqhoun
Jeremy Davies: Toffler
Jeffrey Jones: Hart
John Spencer: General Slauson
David Arquette: Cleaves

Produced by Adam Fields, David Heyman and Tim van Rellim; Directed by Antonia Bird; Screenwritten by Ted Griffin

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Written by DAVID KEYES

The word "ravenous" is defined by dictionaries as 'wanting to eat or drink more than one can reasonably consume.' For a movie named after it, there can be two distinct meanings of the term: (1) the film is about people who eat or drink too much of something; or (2) the movie contains things in it that we may find delicious, but are too numerous to devour. Since "Ravenous" is, of course, about a human who eats other humans, the first definition always applies. Meanwhile, the second meaning is only directed to those who hate the idea, or think that cannibalism has its limits, even at the cinema.

But the truth is, I wasn't disappointed or overfed by what "Ravenous" had to offer. Here is a film that is scary, funny, amusing, suspenseful and awkward all at the same time, without ever being overblown or overproduced. The movie takes place in the year 1847. Upon a Spanish-American soldier's victory in battle, he is mistaken for a corpse and piled underneath hordes of bodies. He regains his strength from the blood of the dead, and is proclaimed an accidental hero when he is able to capture an enemy outpost afterwards. Alas, his commanding officer considers him a coward, and sends him off into the wilderness of Fort Spencer.

The hero is Captain John Boyd, played by "L.A. Confidential"s Guy Pearce. As he arrives in the dank wilderness of this Fort Spencer, he is introduced to a group of soldiers who look odd, but have delectable personalities. The captain of the assemblage, Hart (Jeffrey Jones), is the core of the establishment, a man whose sense of humor carries the movie into a zany rotation of wit and wisdom.

Meanwhile, the soldiers discover a man in the frigid snow named Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle), who, after being recovered and nursed back to health, tells the story of how he and a group of travelers became lost deep in the mountains, and sought shelter in a cave. There, hunger consumed them; Colqhoun describes the experience well and specifically. "First, we ate the oxen, and then a dog, our belts, and our shoes..." Not surprisingly, his story concludes with an ominous claim that the travelers became psychotic, and began eating each other. Description upon description of the horrendous cannibalism prompts Hart, the captain, to send his soldiers up into the mountain to investigate.

What the soldiers find up in that cave is reminiscent of what Sam Neil found on a sinking ship in "Dead Calm." The theory that Colqhoun is the victim turns out to be the pretension; he is actually the man-eater, hiding behind his lies so that he can easily trap these soldiers into a ghastly horrific experience. The gruesome death scenes, the comparisons between steak and corpses, and the bloody showdown are all evidence that, yes, devouring human flesh has indeed consumed this man beyond comprehension. It is inevitable that the director display the cannibalism rather than to 'suggest' it, though, because without the proof, we would have a hard time believing it ourselves.

The movie works best when it's beginning to establish a mood and atmosphere, just before it turns to grotesque displays of gratuitous death. Through the obligatory flashbacks of Boyd's encounter with a pile of dead bodies, our stomachs wrench with incredible nausea; most of the images are just as horrifying as those of "8MM," a film that uses sex as an antagonist just as much as this one uses carnivorism. Viewing them, it is no wonder that the director, Antonia Bird, is a vegetarian.

The script breathes new life into conventional horror twists. Naturally, we will discover that this lost soul is the actual cannibal, and naturally, there will be a showdown between him and Captain Boyd. But these events are hidden well behind the dark atmosphere and setting, which allows us to set aside any predictions so that we are able to enjoy the film the way it should be enjoyed. Nowadays, most of the creative horror movies are centered on teenagers; that factor allows us to easily predict what is and what is not going to happen in the picture.

Maybe that's because we know what teenagers are capable of in horror movies. If you revolve one of these films around soldiers of the Spanish-American war, the last thing you'd expect them to do is eat each other.

1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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