Torso Licking Good
Robert Buchanan | Wisconsin | 12/19/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After a cowardly, earnest American soldier (Guy Pearce) in the Mexican-American War captures the command of a Mexican base in an inexplicable fit of bloodlust, he's commended for his accomplishment...before being shipped to a remote outpost in frigid northern California for his misconduct. He hasn't been stationed for long before a manic, mysterious pioneer (Robert Carlyle) arrives to tell a chilling tale of survival though cannibalism, the spiritual ramifications of which are far more terrible than his story...
Without a doubt, this feature's greatest asset is its terrific cast. Pearce is in fine form as usual, entirely credible as the weak-willed, unlikely war hero. Cast yet again as a bookish, buffoonish authority figure, Jeffrey Jones is typically amusing as the outpost's commanding officer, though his role does allow him to explore a greater range of emotion than usual, and he's up to the task. However, Robert Carlyle's performance is the lynchpin around which the whole movie revolves, alternately traumatized, clownish, charismatic, wicked...as the only character with any significant depth, he's very nearly brilliant and impossible to ignore. Also well cast as the outpost's token degenerate moron, David Arquette does what he does best and isn't ever permitted to become too annoying. Director Antonia Bird doesn't squander the talent at her command, and affords her actors plenty of lingering shots in which to perform.
Though its concept is cleverly framed in the context of Manifest Destiny, "Ravenous" doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is. Much of the humor at the film's start is heavy-handed, in sharp contrast to the clever black comedy that gradually develops and lightens the tone of the weirdest and bloodiest happenings of an ingenious story. Karo isn't spared here and the whole production is awash with gallons of it, but this never seems excessive - after all, when people eat people, things get messy.
There are some glaring flaws: the quoted text of the film's opening is idiotic, many scenes are overscored and the ending is a trifle disappointing. Nonetheless, for those who like their horror amusing, well performed and soaked in blood, there are worse ways to liven up a winter evening. Oh, and by all means, eat beforehand; if you don't, you'll find your stomach growling midway through."