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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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Edward Johnson-Ott review follows movie review
2.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
3.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewvideo review
4.  Greg King read the review movie reviewmovie review
5.  AlexI read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
6.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1 star out of 4

Both visually and thematically, "Ravenous" is a messy little film. The tale of cannibalism in the Old West can't decide whether to be a horror movie, a black comedy or a sweeping metaphor about American imperialism, and tries in vain to be all three. The result is a grisly curiosity that rarely works on any of its levels.

Set in 1847, we follow the morose Captain Boyd (Guy Pearce) to his reassignment at a remote fort in the Sierra Nevadas. Shortly after his arrival, Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle), a half-frozen Scotsman, staggers to the encampment and collapses. Nursed back to health, he recounts the nightmarish story of his group of settlers, forced into cannibalism while snowbound in the mountains.

The soldiers immediately launch a search for survivors, only to discover that Colqhoun, hungry for fresh meat, has led them into a trap. Boyd escapes by leaping from a cliff, then lands on the body of a fallen comrade and, incapacitated by injury, is forced into cannibalism himself. Strengthened by the food, he goes back to the fort, only to see Colqhoun return, this time in the guise of a commanding officer. Shunned by disbelieving fellow soldiers, Boyd tries to convince them of the truth, even while fighting an ever-increasing hunger for more human flesh.

After a somber opening, "Ravenous" takes a turn towards black comedy, with Jeffrey Jones, looking like some grand Dickens' character, drolly introducing the odd ducks who staff the fort. Jeremy Davies (Corporal Upham from "Saving Private Ryan") is intriguing as the skittering, giddy camp chaplain (despite the fact that, for about the fifth film in a row, he plays a minor variation of the same character) and Neal McDonough, whose wolf-like blue eyes are mesmerizing, is effective as a soldier experiencing the 1847 equivalent of 'roid rage. David Arquette, playing a zoned-out loco-weed aficionado, is fun during his brief time onscreen.

Instead of focusing on these interesting folks, the plot dispatches them far too quickly as it veers towards straightforward horror. We learn of Weendigo, a Native American myth which claims that if you eat the flesh of another, you gain their strength and spirit. The wild-eyed Colqhoun is a walking testimonial to the belief, displaying super-human strength and amazing healing powers generated by his taste for humans. As Colqhoun, Robert Carlyle gives an enthusiastic performance, but Pearce's morose Captain Boyd is an uninspiring foe for the monster. Almost any of the other cast members would have been far more entertaining adversaries.

As if things weren't going bad enough, the script takes a self-important turn, making pompous comparisons between cannibalism and the country's expansion. In case anyone misses the leaden metaphors, Colqhoun editorializes about Manifest Destiny, helpfully stating that America "wants to be whole, stretching out its arms and consuming all it can."

Despite some stunning photography and a powerhouse score, "Ravenous" succumbs to its own pretensions and lack of focus. Had the filmmakers ditched the political commentary and followed either the black comedy or the horror theme, this could have been a nasty treat. Instead, "Ravenous" is merely an exercise in bad taste. And yes, the pun is intentional.

Copyright 1999 Edward Johnson-Ott

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