Ravenous, a movie about cannibalism on the frontier, is a quirky contradiction of a film. It’s setting is an odd mixture of idyllic and dreary, it’s tone wavers somewhere between tongue-in-cheek and straight dramatic, and the story – despite it’s historical setting and inspiration – is anything but historical realism. Director Antonia Bird and writer Ted Griffin certainly have a twisted sense of humor and canny sense of delicate tonal balances. This movie is anything but ordinary, which means it was a high risk to be lost in the land of VHS and bootlegged DVDs. Thankfully, Shout!Factory is interested in all things cult and have preserved it beautifully in this Blu-ray release.
Ravenous takes place during the Mexican-American War and follows the taciturn Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce), who is appointed to the solitary Fort Spencer as a backhanded promotion following a fortunate act of cowardice that won an important battle. The fort is populated by outcasts – a pair of Native American siblings (Joseph Runningfox and Sheila Tousey), a drugged up cook (David Arquette), a drunken doctor (Stephen Spinella), an ineffectual pastor (Jeremy Davies), an intense career soldier (Neal McDonough), and a cynical Colonel (Jeffrey Jones). All the same, the members of the fort do their duty when a half-dead stranger named Calqhoun (Robert Carlyle) turns up on their doorstep with a horrible tale of cannibalism. A party rushes to the scene of the crime in hopes of saving the final victim from the demented Colonel Ives, the leader of Calqhoun’s party. When they arrive, however, it turns out that Calqhoun is actually the demented Colonel Ives and that he has lured the members of Fort Spencer to his cave in order to eat them. Only Boyd survives the ambush, eventually resorting to cannibalism himself in order to gain the necessary strength to make it back to the fort. The rest is a bizarre tale about the curse of the Wendigo, a Native American myth about the restorative and revitalizing powers of cannibalism and the insatiable hunger for human flesh once consumed. Calqhoun and Boyd find themselves in a philosophical battle, one embracing and the other resisting their fate.
It stands to be repeated that this is an incredibly odd movie in all the best ways. The tone often goes from one extreme to the other, from quietly subdued to dementedly over-the-top, with both being equally as funny. It might be listed as a horror/thriller on IMDb, but I would be more inclined to categorize Ravenous as a horror/comedy. When its not laughably bizarre, its overly dramatic, hilariously perverse, or tonal incongruous – and there really is nothing about this movie that feels as if it should be taken seriously. In general, it is a delightfully perverse and surprisingly ridiculous movie, and tons of fun to watch.
The Blu-ray itself preserves the movie brilliantly, with the Slovakian and Czech Republic countrysides doubling surprisingly convincingly as the equal parts gloom and beauty of the Rocky Mountain winter. The special features include an enlightening interview with Jeffrey Jones, deleted scenes with some not particularly interesting director commentary, a very 90s TV Spot, photo gallery, and the theatrical trailer. Overall, I’d say the Blu-ray is worth it just for the look of the film but that the special features are limited and sparse.