'Ravenous' Review By Bryan Yentz
... Six years and now, finally, with this review, 201 critiques...
With that, I've decided to look back to a film which, for the last few years, I've neglected to review. A film which has stayed with me ever sense its depiction of humorously horrific cannibalism was scraped across my eyes in all of its crimson glory. A film of such off-kilter personality that it defied simple categorization. And what film might this be? Well, RAVENOUS, of course. One of the few films which displayed the power of filmmaking to me, the means of toying with your audience, and just how useful and emotionally moving a musical composition can truly be. RAVENOUS f*cked with me in the best possible way. It proved to me that "genre" is in the eye of the beholder and that sometimes narrative and musical structure doesn't have to bow to convention whatsoever.
Beginning during the finale of the American-Mexican War, RAVENOUS follows the antiheroic exploits of its protagonist Boyd (Guy Pearce) as his dishonorable discharge lands him at Fort Spencer; a small wooden stronghold in the Californian mountains. Here, he meets a strange band of compatriots including the militaristic Reich, the drunkard Knox, and the peyote-smoking Cleaves (David Arquette). While Boyd begins to relax as best he can in his new confines, he's constantly invaded by his own guilt-ridden conscious and cowardice. . . Which is amplified all the more with the arrival of a starving, freezing man named Colquhoun who just happens to be on the cusp of death. He informs the entire platoon that his comrades were attacked by a cannibalistic Colonel and that there may still be survivors in need of help. Thus, a hunting party is formed and they set out to assist Colquhoun in his rescue attempt. From here, the film defies expectation and becomes a beast all its own through its evolution of both story and technical flourishes.
Upon witnessing it when I was but fourteen years old, one of the most mind-boggling features was that of its music. Even now, the original score composed by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn (Blur, The Gorillaz) remains one of the greatest musical compositions ever created for a film. At once, it's happy, sad, demented, bittersweet, horrifying, comedic, playful, and most importantly, unlike anything most of you have ever heard. What furthers such offbeat choices in music is the means to which each and every song is used. They're placed as juxtapositions against the onscreen occurrences. When one poor fellow is chased by an ever-so-hungry, knife-wielding cannibal, bluegrass chimes in before transitioning into a tribal drum beat. A daydream involving a massive sledgehammer is accompanied by elegant string music before being interrupted by the dissonant puffs of numerous flutes that alter the moment from something melancholy to terrifying. Even now, I play the soundtrack as a means to cheer up. I know that sounds awkward, but one listen to "Boyd's Journey" and the pulsating beat of drums accompanied by a joyous accordion might just make you understand. . . Repeated listening is a must.
I honestly can't describe just how damn amazing such a score is as there hasn't been anything like it since. . . Well, since RAVENOUS first did comprised it. . . And thank God for that.
Not content to simply change the rules of cinematic engagement in music alone, RAVENOUS also sets itself apart by offering an imaginative storyline with numerous twists and incredible characterizations. The only thing better than watching this with someone, is watching it with someone who thinks they know where the story is going to go. The film's central turn of events still gives me chills and the final confrontation between good and evil remains one of the most beautifully brutal bouts of neglected cinema out there. However, none of this would have near an affect if the subjects herein weren't relatable or interesting. Boyd is a reluctant hero--in fact, he doesn't even want the title. He's a coward; one who would rather watch others do the right thing than get up and assist. In no way is he a p*ssy, he's just a real person. Confrontation doesn't thrill him and it's only when every other option has been decimated that he chooses to act--and not even for the most noble of reasons. Yet, this is only a foundation for his character as he grows and matures over the course of the narrative to become the thing he feared the most-a hero with valiant responsibilities.
And for every positive I can list for Boyd, it all goes ten-fold for his rival: Colonel Ives. The character of Ives is most likely one of the most underrated villains in film history as he's both admiral and detestable. He's sympathetic, but you also wouldn't mind seeing a hatchet buried deep in his back. Robert Carlyle's depiction of such an energetic force of evil is both marvelous and horrifying. At the drop of a hat his joyous demeanor shifts into a contorted scowl of wrinkles and gritting teeth. He's the kind of guy who would help you up with one hand, but slide a knife into your gut with the other.
The year in which the film takes place is also wonderfully realized as a sense of awe and wonder encompass such a lonely territory as the mountainous lands of California. From the snow-capped peaks to the forestry and creeks below, a captivating sense of dread envelopes such a land in which death can come as a steep fall or tumultuous squall. The level of grit and grime attributed to the surroundings--be it interior or exterior locations feel natural and palpable. Wardrobe is torn frayed and covered with soot, cabins are dusty and built with crooked and cracked logs, a cave den is speckled with straw and the coagulated splatter of a recent kill. . . The world of RAVENOUS is an exquisitely realized realm; one that causes a viewer to be jaw-dropped at its grandeur, but cautionary as to the dangers it might hold.
What pleased this critic all the more was the fact that this entire journey is bereft of CGI. Director Antonia Bird instructs her film with a realistic grace. There aren't any snazzy digital effects spliced here and there, just tried-and-true methods of direction and choreography. In many ways, the unfolding of the story and its visual feel very classical in their execution. It runs its course patiently with appropriate camera maneuvers and good ol' stunt work in which there was an actual sense of danger involved Honestly, I could never see a film of this ilk being made nowadays without a PG-13 rating, a million-dollar budget for digitized special effects and an A-list celebrity on board for it. . . Again, thank God for that.
I truly wish I could go into each and every facet of the film, describe each and every frame, speak on the nuances of the music and its shifting relationship with the visual context of the film. . . But then that would be robbing you of the experience. This isn't just a horror film. This isn't just a black comedy. This isn't just a drama--or a thriller. It's a seamless blending of varying styles into an epic whole; one that has claimed top honors as my favorite film out there.
Many might observe RAVENOUS as, "Oh, yeah, that Guy Pearce film. . . The one before MEMENTO", but to simply rub it off as a horror film about cannibalism is to negate all of the amazing things such a piece has to offer. Things which other films in the last twenty years have either neglected to do, or simply been incapable of doing. RAVENOUS is a film beyond duplication. There's such a genius at work here that it truly lifts it above the star-studded pack into a dimension all its own. For those willing to take a seat at the audio, visual and narrative feast that is RAVENOUS--truly observe its ingenuity and incredible characterization, I don't believe you'll be disappointed. Everyone I've forced to watch such an opus of carnal creativity has come away indifferent only to ask me the very next day, "Can, uh. . . We watch it again?" Whether or not it has the same effect on you, dear, readers, remains to be seen, but for this moviegoer it still packs a wallop each and every time I watch it.
And with that, 201. . .
And on a closing note. . .
201 might seem light to some; pointless to others. To me, this is a testament of verbiage and emotion spilled over the course of just over a decade. Seconds upon minutes upon hours upon days of writing committed to composing opinionated manuscripts against the grain of mainstream thought. As I have applied myself to doing for the last six years, I will continue to do--be a voice of cinematic reason in hopes that that some might listen. A splitting voice that dissects pieces of celluloid without the interference of mass appeal or hype. To all of those who have followed my preaching for this long, I thank you. You have been one of the largest reasons I have--and continue--to do what I do. With that said, let's make our way to a solid decade, shall we?