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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Ravenous

Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle
Director: Antonia Bird
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: March 1999
Genres: Comedy, Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Jeffrey Jones, Jeremy Davies, David Arquette, Stephen Spinella, John Spencer, Neal McDonough

Review by Greg King
2 stars out of 4

British director Antonia Bird's second American feature, following the disappointingly formulaic Mad Love, is a strange hybrid western cum horror tale involving cannibals and ancient Indian myths.

Ravenous is set in 1847, during the westward expansion that preceded the gold rush. Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce, in his first role since LA Confidential) has been awarded a medal for bravery during the Mexican-American War. Because the true circumstances of his heroism are actually a little embarrassing for the US Army, Boyd is banished to a small outpost in California, which is manned by a small unit of drunkards and misfits.

Into the camp stumbles the nearly dead Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle), who claims to be one of the few survivors of a strange expedition stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Colqhoun tells how his band of settlers turned to cannibalism in order to survive. His tale shocks the soldiers. The camp's Indian guide raises the spectre of an ancient myth in which cannibals mysteriously gain the strength of their victims. As Colqhoun reveals his true nature and begins slaughtering the soldiers, Boyd is faced with a horrible decision - to eat or be eaten.

Ravenous is the first script from writer Ted Griffin, and is ludicrously full of holes. The whole thing grows sillier as it progresses. The injection of modern throw away humour further unbalances the tone of the film.

Ravenous is the fourth collaboration between Bird and Carlyle, but it is also the least compelling. The pair seem to enjoy working together, and obviously had fun making this film, but unfortunately the result is not so pleasant for the audience. Carlyle seems to be enjoying himself with this rather risible role, and he overacts wonderfully in a manner reminiscent of Gary Oldman when he is slumming it. Pearce brings a brooding quality to his role, but he always seems to a little uncomfortable.

The supporting cast includes a number of character actors who have made their mark playing quirky characters in smaller, independent films. However, they all have little impact on this preposterous material. David Arquette (Scream, etc) is wasted in a silly, almost contemporary flavoured role as Cleaves, a soldier perpetually doped up from smoking a peace pipe. Jeremy Davies (Spanking The Monkey, Going All The Way, etc) has recently cornered the market with edgy, neurotic adolescents on the cusp of sexual maturity, but is given little to do in a fairly straightforward role as the religious Toffler. Veteran Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, etc) lands the meatier role as the fort's eccentric commander, and he hams it up accordingly.

The film has been handsomely shot by cinematographer Anthony B Richmond, and the snow covered locations are quite beautiful. (Prague actually doubles for 18th century California!)

Bird directs with a lack of subtlety, emphasising the gore. Anyone who has seen her tough and confronting British films (Face, Priest, etc) will know that she makes few concessions for being a member of the fairer sex. However, when crossing the Atlantic, her Hollywood projects have been bland and fallen short of expectations. With this nasty, tasteless piece of nonsense about cannibals in the old west she seems to have bitten off more than she can chew. Ravenous is a twisted and unsatisfactory experience that will leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouth.

Whatever was Bird thinking at the time? It must have been something she ate!

Copyright 1999 Greg King

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