Ah, what could be better than the return of the good ol’ fashioned cannibal movie? Well, judging from Ravenous, quite a bit, actually. Though it nearly hits its stride as a black comedy, the film never quite finds its rhythym, and falters when it turns into a hybrid monster movie.
The film follows a war hero of the Mexican-American war, John Boyd (Guy Pearce). An accidental hero, Boyd’s true cowardice is suspected by his superior (John Spencer). And, though promoted to Captain, Boyd is sent to a remote outpost in the California wilderness
The soldiers at the fort are eccentric and ususual (played by Jeffrey Jones, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies and Neal McDonough among others). But things take a turn for the bizarre when a stranger (Robert Carlyle) arrives at the fort with a dreadful tale of a settler expedition that turned to cannibalism during the harsh winter.
The soldiers mount a rescue party to see if they can locate any survivors. However, Boyd learns of a peculiar Native American legend. A man who eats the flesh of another becomes a wendigo, a vampire of sorts, who grows in strength, and appetite, with each mouthful of human flesh. Could this monstrous legend be true, and, if so, how can the soldiers hope to stop the beast?
Ravenous falls somewhere between being an out-and-out monster movie, and a very dark comedy, and it probably would have fared better as one or the other. As implemented in the film, the comic tone works better. In fact, when the film strays into the supernatural, things seem out of place, and don’t quite click.
Robert Carlyle is a perfect fit for this film. His wiry, menacing presence has always been a bit on the feral side. However, Guy Pearce is a weak link in this film. Whereas his quiet fortitude worked wonders in L.A. Confidential, it never seems at home here.
From its unusual scoring, to its casting, it is apparent that Ravenous is trying to be quirky. Sometimes it works (with a great performance by Jeffrey Jones), but mostly it doesn’t (as with the overly distracting nature of the score). The search for the perfect cannibal movie continues…