Like The 13th Warrior, Ravenous is one of those bizarre little genre movies that appeals only to a small minority of twisted freaks — like me. What can I say? I’m weird.
Like Dances with Wolves remade by Hannibal Lechter, Ravenous is one perverse — and pretty darn funny — movie. It opens with an appropriately deep and meaningful quote from Nietzsche about choosing your friends carefully or something, and then gives us “Eat me,” attributed to Anonymous. Just so you know what you’re in for right from the beginning.
Capt. John Boyd (Guy Pearce: L.A. Confidential), honored for an inadvertent act of bravery in battle during the Mexican-American War in 1847, is “rewarded” — by General Slauson (John Spencer: The Negotiator, Cop Land), who really doesn’t like Boyd — by being posted to a remote fort in California’s cold and snowy Sierra Nevada mountains. The fort is manned by a ragtag bunch of drunks and crazies, all bored and lonely. So they leap on the tiny bit of excitement presented by Colquhoun (Robert Carlyle: The Full Monty), who wanders into the fort one night, half dead from cold and starvation. He tells a tale of settlers, taking a “shortcut” through the Sierras, who couldn’t beat winter over the mountains and decide to hole up in a cave. They lived in that cave for three months with no food, Colquhoun says — the soldiers all wonder how he survived. “I said there was no food,” Colquhoun goes on. “I didn’t say there was nothing to eat.”
Colquhoun fled the cave, he says, when the cannibalism turned, well, nasty — instead of waiting for people to die, they started whacking still-robust folks on the head. Once they’d tasted human flesh, Colquhoun reveals, it created a “savage” hunger in them all. There were two survivors still alive when he ran, the soldiers’ guest says, and the fort commander (Jeffrey Jones: Sleepy Hollow, The Hunt for Red October) decides they must go help them.
Boyd, haunted by the act of cowardice that ironically earned him his medal for bravery, is disturbingly intrigued by Colquhoun’s description of how eating human flesh confers increased strength and virility, and when the soldiers at the fort get picked off one by one — you saw that coming, didn’t you? — Ravenous becomes very much a two-man show with Boyd and Colquhoun fighting, psychically as well as physically, for dominance. As in the great old horror movies of old, Ravenous give us a compulsion — like vampirism or werewolfism — over which a man has no control. Will Boyd be able to restrain himself from becoming Colquhoun’s disciple in this seductive perversion? Pearce and Carlyle are two great actors: strong, sure of themselves, and each able to imbue a kind of insane dignity to the proceedings. Ravenous would be a whole lot sillier and a lot less weirdly compelling with lesser talents in these roles.
But from Boyd’s stomach-turning experience in the war — buried alive until a pile of corpses, he can’t look at a bloody steak now without vomiting — to an unsuspecting soldier’s sampling of the, er, stew slowly cooking over the fort’s kitchen hearth, to Colquhoun’s comment that “It’s lonely being a cannibal — tough making friends,” Ravenous is pretty tongue in cheek.
Okay, in someone else’s cheek, but still.