Retro Review: ‘Ravenous’

In addition to being a through-and-through horror fan I am also a history buff. As such any film that digs deep into the past for terrors is bound to get my interest. For my money few have done this as well as the underrated 1999 gem starring Guy Pearce and Robert Caryle, Ravenous. A box office failure upon its initial release, this is a movie that is thankfully becoming a cult favorite because its unique nature.

Set in the 1840’s, a traumatized officer of the Mexican-American War, Captain John Boyd, embarrasses his commanding officer and is unjustly stationed to an isolated wintry outpost in the California territory for it. It is not long during his tenure there when, his troops come across a settler dying in the snow known as, Colqhoun. He regales the soldiers with his account of his party being isolated and resorting to cannibalism leaving him as the sole survivor. Needing to investigate further, Captain Boyd leads his men into the snow-covered Sierra Nevada Mountains only to discover the true monster had been with them all along and for Colghoun it’s feeding time. After picking off everyone else, Colqhoun decides that Boyd must experience is own hell. Back at the outpost, he proceeds to play mind games with the officer until he succumbs and also develops his own taste for human flesh.

This is a film deserving of far more respect than it receives. Director Antonia Bird and screenwriter Ted Griffin somehow manage to fuse a cannibal horror flick with a historical military drama and balance the two perfectly. This could make for a tonal mismatch, but Bird expertly finds the right balance, injecting the flick with a biting dark humor that smooths over where the horror and history would clash. Drawing on true myths and historical events of the era, Ravenous has a great strength in its authenticity as you truly get the feel that these are isolated men in the wilderness of the 19th century and whatever happens, Boyd is on his own. This atmosphere of authenticity is only aided by the brilliant score courtesy of Damon Albarn of Blur and composer Michael Nyman who utilize a blend period accurate instruments and a modern snyth-based sound in crafting the unique music in this picture. Across the board the cast is terrific, especially Robert Carlyle who brings a scary yet gleeful energy that allows him to dominate every scene he is in.

As mentioned previously, while many critics rightly praised Ravenous, this is not the kind of film that will appeal to the masses. But there are those of us who realize that the horror genre and historical fiction are not bound by rigid storytelling rules and are free to mingle in fun and brilliant ways. Antonia Bird may have transitioned her career into television, but Ravenous shows she has true gift for filmmaking and hopefully one day she can return to the big screen.