Gimme Something to Watch: Ravenous

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“He was licking me!!!” – Private Toffler

Following the Mexican-American war, Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is “promoted” to a remote station in California where he joins a ragtag group of soldiers who have little to do but drink and watch the snow fall; for it was an act of cowardice which helped him win the battle.  It is after they take in a weak and starving traveler (Robert Carlyle) that Boyd and his companions learn of the curse of Wendigo, wherein the man who eats the flesh of another man gains his strength.

1999:  The year I graduated high school. A friend and I were eating at Captain D’s one Friday night and he said, “we should go see Ravenous, it’s some kind of cannibal movie.”  So we went to the theatre to find out that we were too late (it spent a whole week on the big screen). When I saw it for the first time on DVD, I declared it my favorite film… and 16 years later it has kept that title. (Here I’m continuing crazytaco_12’s series of movie reviews, and therefore will adhere by the same preferences as he [click here].) Since the film is old, there are a few spoilers contained within, which I will save for AFTER the trailer.

Ravenous is an amalgamation of movie genres, including – but not limited to – horror, drama, dark comedy, period piece, cannibal, and vampire. It’s the dark comedy portion that’s not obvious to all. Showing the film to countless friends of mine (some who deemed it too gory to watch) very few found it funny. This is a movie that I watch and think to myself, “NOBODY from the studio interfered with this or that?!” It’s a bizarre story with bizarre characters, with the final fight being the closest thing to a Hollywood moment. Also, the soundtrack is 100% unflushable (will come back to this).

(This is where I planned on including the trailer; but I watched it and it’s so fucking horrible that I cannot embed. I won’t even link to the abomination. THAT is a studio trying to make an incredible indie film look like a Hollywood blockbuster. If you watch the trailer, please DO NOT judge the film based on that. Instead, please enjoy one of the wonderful songs from the soundtrack…)

*SPOILERS FOLLOW*

There are a couple of main themes to grasp in the film, so first let’s tackle the most obvious one:  cannibalism as a metaphor for over-indulgence (let’s lump consumerism in there while we’re at it). Man who eats the flesh of another man gains an increased appetite along with his lust for more power. Colonel Ives, the film’s antagonist, found the cure for tuberculosis in human flesh, but he didn’t stop there. He continued to indulge because of his wanton appetite for more strength (later on horse meat becomes too ordinary for him). The curse of the Wendigo can also be related to the American lifestyle of consumerism: Do I buy the fuel-efficient Toyota or the sexy V8 Lexus? Why save money to buy something when I’ve got this shiny, new Visa card?

Another prevalent theme is the classic scenario of good versus evil. Captain Boyd is not a likable character, something we learn instantly in how he won the battle (faked his own death to get behind enemy lines). He is weak, can’t stand the sight of blood, and commits some truly heinous acts. His internal struggle lasts most of the film, but in the end he realizes all that he has to sacrifice to defeat Colonel Ives. Does a person embrace the curse of the Wendigo and continue to eat more and more… or does he eat just enough to survive? “Eat to live… don’t live to eat,” an effective quote used during a dinner scene towards the end.

It has elements of horror but it isn’t a particularly scary film (though it does offer suspense aplenty). There is enough gore that some viewers might lose their appetite. It provides plenty of dark laughs, and even breaks the fourth wall a few times, “it’s hard making friends when you’re a cannibal.” The costumes and sets are simply terrific, some of the shots of the snow-covered mountains are breathtaking. The acting mostly good all around, though Jeremy Davies’ character can be a little over the top. Funnily enough, David Arquette is in it but he’s given so little to do that he nails the part. Oh yeah, it also features Jeffrey Jones (remember him?) with some excellent dialogue, total dead-pan delivery.

Onto that unflushable soundtrack, composed by Damon Albarn (yes, that Damon Albarn) and Michael Nyman.  It’s a unique mixture of backwoods country, orchestra, military-style marching band, and haunting suspense. I’ve heard nothing like it, and neither have you. I’ve spoken to many a person who doesn’t like the film but loves the soundtrack! The movie has a RottenTomatoes scores of 43% but the soundtrack has a 4.5 star average on Amazon. (The following song is 8 minutes long, go ahead and start it before heading to the comments section.)

This film was so obviously a work of passion for those involved, though it didn’t make much money at the box office. Sadly, director Antonia Bird passed away last year. The flawed characters, humor, themes, direction, suspense, dialogue, soundtrack, and action make this my favorite film of all time. Aaaaaaaand it’s fun picking an underdog… “your favorite movie is The Godfather, that’s cute.”

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