During the Mexican - American War, a cowardice army captain battles a Wendigo, a man addicted to the strength and power absorbed when eating human flesh.
Spoiler Level: High
What would you do to survive? Are there lines that should not be crossed, or is survival the only thing that matters? And what are the costs? We have all heard the story of the Donner party. A group of migrant settlers who got trapped by an early heavy snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. With no food, the settlers resorted to cannibalism to survive.
Ravenous is a movie that takes that general plot and imbeds the Algonquin Indian legend of the Wendigo. While fighting the Mexican-American War, Second Lieutenant John Boyd (Guy Pearce), in an act of cowardice pretends to be dead on the battlefield. His body is placed on a wagon and carted off to Mexican Headquarters. While at the bottom of a pile of dead bodies. Blood from his superior officer trickles into his mouth and he feels a rush of strength and vitality. Boyd single handedly captures Mexican Headquarters and is promoted to Captain for his bravery. Boyd is exiled to Fort Spencer, when General Slauson learns of his cowardice. Fort Spencer is a remote military outpost high in the Sierra Nevada mountain rage. The Fort is staffed by an array of misfit soldiers. Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones) commands with Private Toffler (Jeremy Davies), a devout Christian, Private Cleaves (David Arquette), who is always stoned, the drunken Major Knox (Stephen Spinella) and the militant Private Reich (Neal McDonough), in addition to the Native American scout George (Joseph Runningfox) and his sister Martha (Sheila Tousey).
Soon after Captain Boyd arrives, a frostbitten Scottish man, Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle), stumbles into camp. When he awakens, he tells the chilling story of his ordeal. His wagon train lead by an inept Colonel Ives, became lost in the mountains and they became stuck due to snow fall, taking refuge in a cave. When the food ran out, they resorted to murder and cannibalism to survive. But the more they ate, the hungrier they became. Colonel Hart forms a rescue party and the men set out with Colqhoun to find the survivors if there are any. Before they set out. George tells Boyd and Hart of the legend of the Wendigo. If a man eats the flesh of another man he absorbs his power, but he will become ravenous.
When they arrive at the cave, Boyd and Reich go in to see if there are any survivors, but they find the entire party has been killed. Realizing that this was a trap set up by Colqhoun, Boyd and Reich rush out of the cave only to find that the rescue party has been attacked and are dead or near dead. Reich and Boyd chase Colqhoun, but in the ensuing chase, Reich is killed and Boyd jumps off a cliff choosing not to die at the hands of Colqhoun. He survives, but falls into a pit along with Reich’s dead body. When he tries to climb out of the pit, he realizes his leg is broken. Trapped for days, his hunger gets the better of him and he resorts to eating the flesh of Private Reich. This gives him the strength to pull himself out of the pit and make it back to the Fort.
When Boyd recounts his tale to Cleaves and Martha, who had been on a supply run when Colqhoun arrived, they do not believe him. Knox was too drunk to remember and corroborate Boyd’s story. A second search party finds no evidence and a temporary commander is assigned to the fort. To Boyd’s horror, it is Colqhoun in disguise as Colonel Ives. No one believes Boyd and they all think he has gone crazy.
Secretly, Colqhoun tells Boyd that while suffering from Tuberculosis a native scout told him of the Wendigo legend and to test to see if it was true. He killed the scout and ate him. It cured his disease but left him ravenous. So now he plans on using Fort Spencer as a base to cannibalize passing travelers.
Soon Private Cleaves is found murdered and they suspect Boyd. But it couldn’t be Colqhoun either, since Boyd was watching him the entire time. Martha leaves to get the General and while she is gone, we learn that Cleaves was murdered by Colqhoun’s unexpected ally, Colonel Hart. Hart hadn’t died but was severely injured, but Colqhoun fed him the flesh of his men and he was saved from his mortal injuries. Like Colqhoun, Hart is now addicted to human flesh. In a fight, Boyd is also mortally wounded and given the choice of either dying or joining them, but eating a stew made of human meat. Boyd eats and is saved, but convinces Hart to free him so he can fight Colqhoun. This leads to the final battle between Boyd and Colqhoun. Who will die and who will the victor eat? Watch and find out!
The film is a bit quirky and fun in its portrayal of such dark material and I think the acting is quite good. The story flows really well and the pacing is quick and exciting. The story itself is solid and the writing clever and witty. Robert Carlyle shines as Colqhoun, as he does in almost any part he is cast in. His character goes from victim, to insane, to diabolical flawlessly. Guy Pearce as the troubled hero is also very convincing. He is tormented by his cowardice, and even more from the rush of power he received after tasting blood. Where Carlyle’s Colqhoun embraces the cannibalistic lifestyle, but Pearce’s Boyd is troubled by it and tries to resist it as long as he can. The supporting cast is good as well. Arquette as the simple drug addicted Cleaves adds some comedy and levity to the role and McDonough plays the ferocious Private Reich with zeal.
The production itself was troubled, which normally leads to a substandard film, but not in this case. Having gone through three directors, several rewrites and rumors of micromanagement from Fox 2000 producer Laura Ziskind. Final director, Antonia Bird states that the final cut had elements introduced without her approval. It would be interesting to see what the original film directed by Milcho Manchevski would have looked like.
Overall, this is my favorite movie about cannibalism, not that I have a long list. Its story telling weaves and interesting morality tale. Would you cross the line to survive and if so, could you live with yourself afterwards?
It’s a Man Eat Man World Out There!
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Acting - 10/1010/10
Music - 9/109/10
Production - 8/108/10
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