[Blu-ray Review] Morbid Cannibal Comedy ‘Ravenous’ Belongs on Your Shelf!

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As actor Jeffrey Jones points out in his interview included on this new Blu-ray, the title of Antonia Bird’s cannibal film Ravenous has a few meanings. There’s the obvious one, referring to the ravenous hunger of a cannibal for human flesh. Then there’s the other meaning, referring to the backdrop of the Mexican-American War and the United State’s hunger for more land and power. It’s this layered approach to the genre, along with its great cast and offbeat tone, that makes the underrated Ravenous a wholly remarkable film.

Guy Pearce stars as Captain John Boyd, a recently promoted soldier sent to a remote fort in the Sierra Nevada mountains. At the start of the film he’s being honored for taking down some Mexican army leaders, but in reality he’s a coward who played dead as his platoon was slaughtered. Right off the bat he’s not a character you want to root for.

The fort is populated with a group of misfit soldiers led by Col. Hart (Jeffrey Jones). Amongst them are David Arquette (who plays a stoner), Jeremy Davies, and Neal McDonough. If you watch Justified you know McDonough can play one helluva badass, as he does here. One night, a ravaged man named Col. Ives shows up at the fort and tells them a dark tale of cannibalism. He’s played by Robert Carlyle, who turns in one gleefully insane performance. When the men go to investigate what Ives told them, all hell breaks loose.

Ravenous is a cannibal movie, but it also utilizes some Native American mythology of the Wendigo. There’s a pinch of vampirism mixed in as well, which makes for some diabolical twists in the story. The tone see-saws between suspenseful and dark to almost whimsical during scenes you wouldn’t expect a playfulness to come through. For example, there’s one tense chase scene in the forest, but during it composer Damon Albarn’s score is really perky, almost like a Mark Mothersbaugh tune. This combination of playful and morbid gives Ravenous a fun, comedic tone.

Guy Pearce, just coming off his first big role in L.A. Confidential, brings a stoic, solemn vibe to Boyd. While he may deliver the goods, this is Robert Carlyle’s show. It’s a maniacal, intense performance and there’s something really terrifying in his eyes that tells you he isn’t fucking around. He delivers these macabre monologues about the power of devouring human flesh that have such confidence in them that it’s scary. Pearce does get to shine a bit later on once he’s gotten a taste for human meat, but it’s Carlyle who grabs you by the balls the whole time.

Ravenous explores a lot of territory: power, mortality, morality, manifest destiny, redemption, etc. It really goes beyond a simple cannibal comedy, traversing through a cold, metaphysical landscape. I highly recommend it and now with Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray, you have no excuse!

The 1080 widescreen transfer is fine and highlights the film’s grim atmosphere. There’s nothing that really pops though. It oftentimes look like a standard definition DVD. The 51. DTS-HD Master Audio sounds fantastic, however. The score really shines.

Scream Factory has carried over the three audio commentaries previously included on the DVD edition. The best track features director Antonia Bird and composer Damon Albarn as they keep things really honest and insightful. There’s rarely a pause on that one. The track with screenwriter Ted Griffin and actor Jeffrey Jones is great as well. It’s obvious that Jones really has a strong fondness for this film. The last track is with Robert Carlyle. Although he delivers a powerful performance in the film, his commentary is wicked boring with loooong stretches of nothing.

The new special feature is a 20-minute interview with Jeffrey Jones. He really loves this film as well as the time period it takes place in. He drops serious knowledge about Native Americans, the Mexican-American War, and other historical tidbits relating to the production. It was interesting to learn that he actually convinced Bird to change the script so that his character would meet a different fate than originally planned. He also talks about the working condition they experienced shooting in Poland and how they created fake snow. You’re definitely going to want to watch this interview when the film ends. Bravo, Mr. Jones.

The disc also includes about 10 minutes of deleted scenes with option commentary by Bird, a trailer and TV spot, and a photo gallery.

Ravenous has gone underrated for far too long. Be part of the solution and check out this Blu-ray!

 

Official Score

  • Fantasma George

    “If you watch Justified you know McDonough can play one helluva badass, as he does here.”

    If by ‘badass’ you mean ‘sodomite crackhead’ then sure, pretty badass!

  • http://www.simplefilmreviews.com/ Matthew

    I couldnt get into this movie at all. Thought it was too ridiculously campy. I wanted to like it more (having read a lot of good things about it). My Review:

    http://www.simplefilmreviews.com/2014/05/ravenous-1999.html

    • Dave Brown

      I think you need to look up the definition of the word ‘campy’. A lot of people use it incorrectly. Similar to the way people don’t use the world ‘pretentious’ correctly. This movie is far from campy. It’s deeply comical in a black sort of way, but not campy.

      • http://www.simplefilmreviews.com/ Matthew

        I can agree with the campy argument, bad example. But ‘deeply comical in a black sort of way’ ….I think it wanted to be dark comedy but failed. The movie isn’t funny, it isn’t scary…it’s stuck in limbo between tones.

  • Bennyhill

    He’s licking me!

  • Saren Nevac

    Love this movie, one of those you can offer friends as not many people have ever heard of it. I think the music is what puts people off when they first watch it – but its part of the charm as the music was made from the instruments of the time. I also like that the music director was the lead singer from Blur.

    • CTHL

      I hear the hate for the music all the time, which just blows my mind… easily my favorite original soundtrack ever. One of the few times I ever bought the OST! And yep, it’s even in my day-to-day playlist amongst Suicide Silence and Buddy Holly.

      Love the movie, one of my top 5, genre regardless.

  • http://Voorhees83 Voorhees83

    I love this movie, but never thought of if it as a comedy.

  • Jaysin Horror

    This has been, hands down, one of my all time favorite movies that has gone vastly unappreciated. Glad to see it being released on bluray!

  • EVIL BREAD

    I just watched this the other day after hearing all the recent praise and seeing it appear on Amazon Prime (not saying I had my hopes up or anything- I’m pretty good at managing my expectations). But, I really didn’t like it at all. I was totally into the first act with the weird music and all that. (!!!!!SPOILERS!!!!) Pretty much after Robert Carlyle kills the group and that whole cave scene ends, I didn’t like the movie anymore. It was awkward and I didn’t find it scary, or funny, or any kind of combination of the two. I dunno… I tried.

  • ThunderDragoon

    I’ll have to watch this.

  • JeanHBurdette

    as Thelma
    explained I cannot believe that a stay at home mom can make $7420 in four weeks
    on the internet . more info here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • http://jam.com/ John Goatbirth

    I remember watching it back in 1999 when my sister rented it. Loved it then, and have been championing it ever since. It’s quite brilliant (particularly the first half), and I’m glad it’s found a cult following. In my list of Top 10 Favourite Films.

    Unfortunately director Antonia Bird died last year, so honour her memory and watch this underrated gem!