Judge Patrick Naugle just lost his appetite.
You are what you eat.
It's the Mexican-American war and Second Lieutenant Boyd (Guy Pearce, Iron Man 3) has played dead to avoid being killed in battle while the rest of his battalion is massacred. Boyd hides in a wagon of dead bodies but, during a brief moment of bravery, he captures the Mexican unit after being taken into their headquarters with the rest of the dead. At first commended and promoted to captain, Boyd is exiled to the remote Fort Spencer in the Sierra Nevada mountain range when his commanding officer (John Spencer, The Negotiator) learns of his cowardice. It's at this outpost that Boyd meets a group of ragtag military misfits led by Col. Hart (Jeffrey Jones, Beetlejuice). Before Boyd can settle in a man named Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle, Trainspotting) stumbles in from the cold, malnourished and almost frozen. After being nursed back to health, Colqhoun tells the story of his wagon train led party becoming lost in the woods and eventually succumbing to cannibalism. The Fort Spencer crew takes it upon themselves to investigate Colqhoun's story in the woods which leads to some unexpected and terrifying revelations.
I have often said that I'm willing to try any meat that's put in front of me. I've tried frog legs, snails, rabbit, and even bull testicles. The more exotic or odd the meat, the better. I once even noted to some friends that I'm curious what human flesh tastes like. I had to quickly explain that I don't have a real interest in trying human flesh, just that I've wondered what it tastes like and, if put in terrible compromising circumstances, I'd be willing to try it. For some inexplicable reason, I'm not friends with those people anymore.
There have, of course, been many movies about people eating human flesh. From The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to Sweeney Todd, movies about cannibalism often revel in the gore and grizzle of the actual killing and cooking (the exception being the drama Alive, which was based on a true story). Then there are movies like Ravenous which seem to deal with the topic in a dramatic, comedic, and horrific fashion. There are moments where it feels like the Ed Gein story on laughing gas. I've never seen a movie quite like this, which takes place in pioneer times, has overtones of the vampire tale, and the sets the stage with dark humor and a music score that seems to have been imported from another movie.
Ravenous is filled with an assortment of weird characters, which only adds the film's oddball charm. Guy Pearce almost gets the short end of the stick as the straight man to the rest of the cast's lunacy. Pearce plays Boyd with equal parts hero and coward, often mixing the two traits at a moment's notice. Robert Carlyle—an actor with some of the wildest eyes in Hollywood—is deliciously devious Colonel Ives, the film's main antagonist. Ives starts off as a weak-willed survivor show slowly transforms into a force to be reckoned with. The supporting cast is made up of a grand cast of character actors including Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan) as a the religious but easily spooked Pvt. Toffler, Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger) as the tough-as-nails Pvt. Reich, and David Arquette as…well, technically Arquette plays a character, but that character is mostly just an 1800s version of David Arquette. Rounding out the cast is the irreplaceable Jeffrey Jones as the kindly Col. Hunt, whose performance hints at a man who knows more than he's letting on.
So just what is Ravenous? Is it a horror movie? Historical drama? Black comedy? I suppose, in its own demented way, Ravenous is a little bit of all of those. The production history was fraught with difficulty, with the film's original director replaced by the late Antonia Bird (Mad Love). Bird took the screenplay for Ravenous and jacked up the weirdness factor by ten. While some of the actors play their roles straight (Pearce), others seem to be relish taking their characters into dark and often menacing avenues (Carlyle). The screenplay by Ted Griffin (Matchstick Men) commands a weird vibe between pitch back comedy, gory set pieces, and a rumination on what it means to eat another man's soul (inspired in part by the true life story of the Donner party). Interestingly, by the end, the film seems to wander into almost supernatural territory as characters become more or less super-strong due to their ingestion of human flesh. It's an interesting enough idea, but the filmmakers never follow through with what it truly means to gain such feats of strength.
Finally, I have to make mention of the film's offbeat soundtrack by Damon Albarn and Micheal Nyman (who also created the hauntingly beautiful score for The Piano). The musical score feels almost experimental in its execution, sometimes jarringly so. There are moments where the score almost pulls the viewer out of the film because it's so contrasting to the visuals, then just as quickly puts them back on edge again. Does the music score work? I think so, but not in any normal kind of way. For any other film this soundtrack may seem out of place. Considering Ravenous is about 18th century cannibals, I'm giving it a pass.
Ravenous (Blu-ray) is presented in 2.35:1/1080p high definition widescreen. This newly minted transfer by Scream Factory is certainly going to please fans of the film. There are moments when the film takes place in brightly lit afternoons and others where it's nothing but shadows and darkness. The colors and black levels are all solid and well defined without any major defects marring the image. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is an often aggressive mix that features some nauseating sound effects (especially when characters are eating their 'dinner') with a pumped up music score by Albarn and Nyman.
Bonus features include an audio commentary from director Antonia Bird and composer Damon Albarn, a second commentary from screenwriter Ted Griffin and actor Jeffrey Jones, and a third commentary from actor Robert Carlyle; a music and effects only isolated track; an interview with Jeffrey Jones; a few deleted scenes (with optional commentary); a TV spot; photo gallery; and theatrical trailer for the film.
Ravenous is one exceptionally strange movie. While the parts don't always work in tandem, the overall effect is an interesting and different movie-going experience. The performances are a bit all over the map with Robert Carlyle's deliciously evil performance taking the mutilated cake. If nothing else, I was never bored during the film's runtime. It's hard to see a major studio releasing Ravenous on Blu-ray (it lost almost $10 million during its initial theatrical release), which is why fans will be happy that Scream Factory picked up the ball and ran with it.
A cinematic treat worth tasting.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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