Ravenous (1999)

Director: Antonia Bird
Starring: Robert Carlyle, Guy Pearce, David Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Jeremy Davies, Stephen Spinella, Nail McDonough, John Spencer .USA/UK/Czech Republic. 1h 41m

Through all the beautiful landscape shots and bloody battles, Ravenous is a poetic journey of one man dealing with the mental conflicts of honour and cowardice set in a allurgin remote mountain location and having to deal with one of the most ferocious Algonquian legends. The film raises tough questions on how heroes are perceived and the effects on the individual, what if a moment of bravery is pure accidental luck, how can a man continue to live the lie before he’s found out?

After their first two initial weeks of filming the original director Mick McCluskey was sacked and leading cast member Robert Carlyle called on an old friend Antonia Bird to complete this prestigious project. Antonia had previously directed him in a brilliant English council estate mobster film called Face (1997) where Carlyle stars alongside Ray Winstone as an average Joe socialist who forms a gang to rob a bank, the movie still has a strong cult following and is highly rated along other Brit classics such as the highly acclaimed Nil By Mouth (1997) and really cemented burden Carlyle in the memories of dedicated fans.

In the mid-19th century around the time of the American-Mexican war Colonel John Boyd (Pearce) is seen playing dead in some corpses he then uses this opportunity to infiltrate enemy territory and win the fraction of the battle however in his commemorative meal he’s unable to look at a steak, his ability to deal with Mexican rebels and inability to deal with his dinner is noticed and as a total embarrassment, he’s sent off to the Rocky Mountains to join a company of general outcasts that man an isolated Fort Spencer, aided by two natives, George (Joseph Running Fox) and his sister Martha (Shelia Tousey) they pretty much have to make up their own entertainment (herbal or otherwise) while waiting for the snow to melt and the footfall to pick up to feel useful again.

Boyd tries to settle into the new company of misfits including the soldier of soldiers Pv. Reich (McDonough) a really sleepy alcoholic vet, Knox (Spinella) a deeply religious Pvt Toffler (Davies) and the plump stamp collecting Col Hart (Jones), Boyd is just about finding his feet when on a cold wintry night a strange man Calhoon (Carlyle) is spotted outside, frail and near death, they club together to revive him and he tell them a tale that makes the donner party tragedy sound like a picnic in the park. He and his party get lose in the Rockies and resort to cannibalism to survive, On hearing his tale of misadventure they decide to head out to try and rescue the last surviving woman, after all it is their duty, but what starts as a brave rescue mission soon turns into a deadly battle of wits between a self-confessed coward and highly sensitive and broken, Boyd, and a overzealous cannibal who embodies all of the worst properties of a windigo.

The movie is bolstered by its beautiful and yet desolate location the wonderful hills of the Rockies with its lush greenery feel totally remote, on top of the fine acting all around the film is also pitted with an outstanding soundtrack both uplifting and full of curiosity is partly composed by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman at times is swells into really deeply powerful moments, and is spiced up with short clips of religious and 1920s authentic music they all work together and a true western-style harmony, it adds to the overall feeling of authenticity of movie.

It has to be noted that Antonia Birds direction is just absolutely outstanding, for any projects that land in her hands. Her long history of working on British soaps and TV shows such as EastEnders, Casualty and The Bill etc she has such adaptability, her creativity on these larger projects is on a dime, she has this amazing talent to make her characters extremely human, very believable and yet so extraordinary and Bird spends time giving each of them credible screen time and no one is ignored. Boyd is constantly in some kind of inner battle concerning his sanity and bravery, hot on his heels is a mysterious character who goes by a couple of identities, but both are hungry for human flesh and blood, something which Boyd experienced by accident in the War and ever since he acts likea junky trying to kick a habit,, but for their similarities, these brothers are very different spiritually, but is there some hint of homo eroticism? one of Bird’s favourite subjects.

Bird and Carlyle have so much history together, you can see how they danced off each other creating raw and vivid characters, however it seems everybody fell under her spell as they also gave much better performance, with some actors really went above and beyond in order to give their all for this remarkable story to be told. In one scene, Boyd is forced to eat a particularly “meaty” stew and reality had to eat a lamb stew but as Pearce is a devout vegetarian he had to spit food out whenever Antonia shouted cut!

There’s so much good stuff going on in Ravenous, the harmony between sound and sight, dynamic action and the sense of doom and mystery that roller coasters throughout. Everything is just so fine tuned it’s hard not to like it all. Despite all the tough questions, there’s a lot of heavy dark comedy and I have to really take time out to commend is how the approach of the Windigo mythology is touched on here, for a while Hollywood was completely baffled by the mystery of the creature that often popped up as a deer man or a werewolf or some kind of big hairy monster, however seeing the entity as a haunting of the blood is something quite intriguing, it does a smooch for the Wendigo as Vampyr (1932) did for .. well vampires.. But there’s also the easy heavy hitting analogy that this is all about American culture and it’s cannibalistic nature, but I’ll let you work through that idea.

From its humble beginning until it’s massive showdown at the end which caused the film to run out of fake blood there’s an incredibly strong moralistic story that shows the inner workings and battles within a man striving to do the right thing it’s a very powerful film with some interesting comedy and a raw and unsettling brooding horror story that unfolds, and all this from a woman who has a week to prep before filming, I have to say that her premature death is a sore blow to cinema. #fuckcancer

TLDR:

Rating: 8/10

Related: Bone Tomahawk (2015), The Burrowers (2008), Plunkett & Macleane (1999)
List: Cannibalism Cinema
Spotlight: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle

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