Western Watchins #101
Ravenous is a bold and flavorful movie that tackles questions of duty, morality and cannibalism sending them all sliding down a blood-slippery slope into one fine stew of a film. Released in 1999, you likely lost this tasty treat somewhere between The Matrix and Fight Club. If you did manage to see a quirky or obscure movie that year, Office Space or Boondock Saints were the usual suspects. There was just no love to be found for this week’s little back-bacon biting bastard and it left theaters about the same day it premiered recouping less than twenty percent of its twelve million dollar budget. I remember watching Ravenous for the first time years ago with an old friend of mine but as to where or how we came across it I have nary a clue. It was probably in the electronics section of Wal-Mart hiding in a $2 bin inside of a $5 bin both of which were actually out back inside of a dumpster. Imagine my surprise then when it showed up on Netflix! Granted, there is some supremely stupid shite on Netflix and with Ravenous‘ track record they no doubt picked this title up for nothing, but I’m here to tell you it’s not any sort of shite and much, much better than nothing. In fact it’s quite something, a savory and unexpected something. Humor filled and horrible it’s dripping with delicious performances from a talented and diverse cast. Let’s meet them! And then eat some of them!
Ravenous is a fairly straightforward “let’s isolate ourselves in the woods so a Wendigo can eat us” kind of story. You’ve seen this all before but what sets it apart from the pack is that you’ve never seen anything like it. A troubled production couldn’t stop the actors involved from kicking ass and eating it too. Along with most of the other parts. All your favorites are here like “guy who is fatherly and past his prime” guy:
Damn. Ferris took one day off, poor Rooney’s metabolism took all the rest. He’s competent even if corpulent, yet reduced to little more than an aide-de-camp. At least there’s one guy on site ready to “bring it” should the need arise. He’s “extremely gung-ho soldier” guy:
Hard as nails, and with one of the greatest character intros of all time, he ranks real high on the “how fuckin’ cool is this guy” list. The other end of the spectrum features “total bum-fuck soldier” guy:
Geez, a guy who’s seen too much shit, one who’s ready to kick some shit, and one goofy shit full of chicken shit…who the hell’s running this place? That would be “guy in charge of lonely outpost who looks drunk and probably is” guy:
Followed by “guy who looks like an Indian and probably is” guy:
Plus a “David Arquette-ish guy”, played by David Arquette:
Now, let’s not forget our leads. Fending off flesh eating freaks of nature is going to take a protagonist or two. If you’re in need of heroes lad, look no further than Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle. Because looking further won’t help. You’re in the middle of nowhere and this is all you got. A cowardly, almost deserter of the Mexican-American War and a frail, almost victim of a prior cannibal attack, respectively.
Pearce spends the film cooking in the slow-burn degradation of his soul. His decisions and inactions haunt him. His eyes say “I just watched Old Yeller, Charlotte’s Web and the first ten minutes of Up all in a row.” His mouth says practically nothing. He sloughs along getting covered in mud and filth to ensure that his outsides match up to what lies within. Carlyle conversely seems to thrive more with each passing day. Surrounded by his saviors, he’s been given a new lease on life after escaping a madman to wander aimlessly through the wilderness with neither food nor hope. He stumbles into Fort Spencer a nearly dead man but within its walls finds a new vigor, one that becomes the target of Pearce’s suspicions and jealousy. One man fallen from grace, another risen from the grave.
With a new purpose in his heart Carlyle inspires the forgotten garrison to head out into the High Sierras on a rescue mission with the belief that a few more of his original travelling companions might still be alive and in need of assistance, gripped as they must be in the clutches of a maniac. Beliefs though are meant to be shattered at times, nibbled upon in others. A few twists and turns later finds the Wendigo fully revealed and with him all the smashing, gashing and gnashing you’d expect. See!
Oh mmBllaAAArrggGGGHHaaawffuuuooaawwwGAAwwwwdNO! Wait, that’s just a steak from earlier in the movie. I get it, and if you watch, you will too. Ravenous is darkly comedic. If you’re expecting to expel more vomit than laughter you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It is gross. Disturbing, upsetting gross. But it’s over the top ridiculous and hilarious gross too. Like an 1800s America version of American Psycho we can tell the director is winking at us even with that blood on her lips the whole time. The humor makes Ravenous not just watchable but unexpectedly enjoyable.
As humans we laugh in the face of danger because we’re unafraid holding hands with scared shitless. The cannibalism in this film can act as a metaphor for whatever lengths you might see yourself going in order to achieve whatever goals you’ve set in life. The brutality here reminds us we can all become monsters. The levity, that we should avoid taking others and ourselves too seriously. Satirizing anyone you’ve ever known who’s gone a little loopy and pushed a bit too far, you realize also that perhaps you haven’t pushed far enough at some points in your own life. Everybody wants something but so few are really willing to do what it takes to have it. Unless you’re a Uruguayan soccer player, cannibalism should be avoided. But chances are there’s something else out there, in Life, that you won’t take a bite from, not because it’s right or wrong but because you’re scared.
One of the hardest things in the world to choke down is failure. But swallow it, then go goddamn succeed.
4 rounds in the colander, uh, cylinder, for Ravenous. It’s a high adventure whodunit and a fabulous frontier what-the-fuck all tucked inside the beastly burrito that is human nature at its most aggressive. Dirty and charming. It’ll leave an odd coppery taste in your mouth before leaving any warm fuzzies in your heart, but, it’s miles beyond your standard “slasher” flick. Given the budget and difficulties the production encountered it’s an enormously well done film. Well done indeed despite the fact the subject matter is so rare and bloody. Witty dialogue, desolately beautiful scenery, one tremendous soundtrack, a mesmerizingly unforgettable antagonist and the best knock-down-drag-out between two ragged bastards I’ve seen since They Live, this crock pot of crazy makes for one appetizing evening amigo.
No matter your palate.