Ravenous

post_ravenousdvd.jpgHollywood makes hundreds of movies per year, and the rest of the world adds several hundred more. How many do you remember from last year? Nine. That’s it. Nine. (I know, I would have thought more too. But it’s nine.) Great movies are falling through the cracks every week, and their only hopes are DVD, DVR, and now FSR. These reviews are me gently pressing your face into those cracks, so you can see what you’ve been missing.

Production snafus are commonplace in films today.  From cast and crew meltdowns to Mother Nature throwdowns, things can happen on a movie set that threaten to throw the whole film into the crapper.  Ravenous faced a similarly precarious and daunting challenge two-thirds of the way into filming.  As the harsh and unpredictable Eastern European weather swirled around them, and as contract stipulations forced certain cast member availability into strict timetables, the filmmakers were dealt a mighty blow.

They had run out of fake blood.

They had, in fact, exhausted the entire Slovakian supply of fake blood.  On short notice, and with many crimson-colored scenes ahead, the filmmakers thought outside the box.  They visited local farms and butchershops and came away with several liters of wet, sticky, red stuff.  Fake, fake blood if you will.  Filming commenced, and Ravenous was completed. More films should have this problem, and this alone is almost enough to recommend it.  (Slovakia, for its part, learned from its mistake and replenished the fake blood supply… only to have Eli Roth and his abysmal Hostel: Part II waste it all again eight years later.)

Ravenous opens in the middle of the Mexican American War in 1847.  Truncated battle scenes are intercut with with an award ceremony and celebratory dinner.  Steak is on the menu, much of it close-up and swimming (see above.) This is our introduction to not only the film, but to our protagonist as well.  John Boyd (a bedraggled and haggard Guy Pearce… is there any other kind?) is the medal’s recipiant, and as he hesitantly cuts in to the meat before him he suddenly stands, turns, and vomits.  Cue titles.

These opening few minutes sum up the character quite well. Boyd is a soldier lacking in intestinal fortitude, but more importantly in inner strength and conviction.  His medal is earned by playing dead on the battlefield out of fear and weakness, allowing him to later crawl from a neglected pile of dead bodies and surprise the enemy.  His “reward” is banishment to a lonely fort in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Fort Spencer is home to a fringe detachment, a motley crew made up of mostly recognizable faces, including Jeffrey Jones, Jeremy Davies, and David Arquette (don’t stop reading! He has a very small role and I promise he dies!)  These folks all have their own peculiar peccadilloes, and Boyd fits right in.  Before he has time to truly feel at home however, a stranger enters camp and promptly collapses to the ground.  His name is Colqhoun, and he’s hairy, delirious, and played by a maniacal Robert Carlyle. He tells a story of an ill-fated expedition and its grisly outcome in the wilderness.  A story that places him as possibly the only survivor.  Or possibly not. Woken from their relaxed, winter slumber, the soldiers head out to find the scene of the related atrocity.

That covers the first half hour, and everything after that should be experienced first-hand as a viewer. Many reviewers and even the dvd box itself give away too much of the plot (some of it blatantly incorrect,) so try to avoid other descriptions of the movie if at all possible.  It should suffice that the film is loaded with blood, black humor, and beautiful scenery.  Director Antonia Bird, best known for the (not so) controversial Priest, has a fantastic eye for landscape and action, including a spectacular jump from a cliff into (and through) the giant trees below.  With rare exception (damn you Arquette!) the characters are all perfectly played and entertaining to watch.  Pearce and Carlyle are excellent as usual.  The former has cornered the market on gaunt and impaired characters struggling to be more than they’ve been, and the latter has fun and sinks his teeth into every role, none moreso than here.  Curiously, Jeremy Davies’ role is very reminiscent of the one he played in Saving Private Ryan, except less frustrating and more enjoyable.  (Plus he has one of the best lines in the movie… “He was licking me!”)  The musical score also deserves notice, and though some have chimed against it for being too jarring and ill-fitting, it’s playful, folksy style matches the film’s mood and tone well.

If you want it to, the film works as an allegory for Western consumption and expansion, but why would you want it to? Go into it expecting nothing more than great action, (somewhat) surprising plot twists, and some unexpected (but darkly intentional) laughs, and you won’t be disappointed.  Afterwards, if you want to take some time to digest the experience and it comes out the other end as subversive, social commentary, then so be it.  (If it comes out as shit, then I apologize, but there’s no accounting for a lack of taste.)

Grade: B+

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