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Ravenous (1998)
Director: Antonia Bird

review by Tony Lee

This curious vampire and cannibalism drama has an offbeat historical setting, in 1847 during the Mexican US war. It flirts with the Canadian Indian myth of the wendigo, a remnant of Algonquin folklore concerning an animal spirit that feeds upon human flesh, but doesn't exactly leap into bed with the generic monster-on-the-rampage idea. Algernon Blackwood wrote what many regard as the definitive story about this legend, restating its haunting quality by casting the wendigo as a wraith of the north wind. Ravenous concentrates on the fairly obvious horrific aspects, with a handful of Yankee troops sent to an isolated mountain outpost for an endurance test during winter months (the advertising blurb compares this to Carpenter's The Thing, 1982), but apart from a few black comedy scenes it lacks impact.
   Robert Carlyle happily launches into his role as storytelling spree killer, with a secret identity, and convenient powers of rejuvenation following a wounding by nominal hero Guy Pearce (from L.A. Confidential), as the coward who overcomes his soldiering handicap - identified by early flashbacks to his burial beneath the corpses of his slaughtered comrades-in-arms. When Pearce finds himself trapped and injured in a bear pit with another dead man, he realises that cannibalism is his only source of strength for escape. Even if he does survive a further ordeal of the trek to safety, can he overcome his fear of battle and fighting, to avoid joining in with the inhuman Carlyle's murder plot?
   The rugged landscapes of Slovakia and Poland stand-in for the Sierra Nevada wilderness, helping to create a suitable creepy atmosphere for a number of grimly intense action scenes, reminiscent, to some extent, of Michael Mann's exceptional The Last Of The Mohicians, while the only marginally satisfying ending descends into Grand Guignol splatter movie clichés in the tradition of Hammer gore-fests. Ravenous is an oddity that seems unlikely to appeal to fans of Westerns or fans of period horror. The film's unreserved mix of these two distinctive genres is a bold move for British director Antonia Bird (bought in at the eleventh hour by the producers) but, unfortunately, the result is neither fish nor fowl. In a perverse bit of trivia, star Guy Pearce and director, Antonia Bird, are both vegetarians.
previously published in VideoVista #34
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