FANGO Flashback: “RAVENOUS”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
When horror fans think “cannibal film,” there’s a few images that come immediately to mind: insect-ridden skeletal remains, thick jungle brush, blood-soaked savages, etc. Perhaps if not the jungle cannibal films, horror fans might think of the domestic cannibal flicks, whether it be more southern fried fare like the work of H.G. Lewis or the ominous creepshow of the Hannibal Lecter films. But among the more accepted endeavors in the cannibal subgenre, a few exceptional fright flicks approach the genre with utter unique and mind-bending tales that far too often fall between the cracks; Antonia Bird’s RAVENOUS is among those films.
Part tale of human horror, and part something altogether much more strange, RAVENOUS could have been a by-the-numbers survival horror akin to real life tragedies such as The Donner Party and the Alferd Packer expedition. But instead, RAVENOUS becomes something much more surreal and unpredictable, using suspense, gore and the supernatural all to a gloriously wicked effect. And lest the film fall into the realm of camp, director Bird is able to wrangle some sincere dramatic performances from her incredible ensemble cast, including an at-his-scariest Robert Carlyle.
RAVENOUS is also the kind of film that is best to go in blind to, with the surprises in both storytelling and thematic material being worth the patience. Make no mistake, Bird delivers the maddening amounts of blood and guts necessary to a proper cannibal tale, but it’s rather her approach to the tone of the film that’s more fascinating as Bird instills a playful atmosphere that allows both the savage moments and the more unusual parts thrive. And what makes RAVENOUS even more impressive is how Bird uses that playfulness to throw the audience off-guard for the more intense and crazy moments, earning a truly “one-of-a-kind” status for a horror film that’s both a period piece and an unabashed cannibal flick.
Bird also had the luck of having an excellent crew behind her as well, who were able to translate her surreal and unique vision for the film to a T. Ted Griffin’s script is incredibly well-written, injecting emotion and actual American legend into a tale of desperation, obsession and (literal) consumption. Anthony B. Richmond’s cinematography is incredibly impressive, adding a visual consistency and some occasionally striking, Raimi-esque camerawork that lends itself to the overall strange aura surrounding the narrative. The music also helps meld together the radically shifting tones in the film, with the score by BLUR’s Damon Albarn and composer Michael Nyman elevating the sense of danger and peculiarity in the proceedings.
Of course, RAVENOUS is also only as strong as its cast, which features a wealth of genre performers at the top of their game. Guy Pearce is incredible as the lead protagonist, seemingly down for every twist and turn the film makes, as well as every physical and emotional transformation required. Likewise, Robert Carlyle is exceptional as his foil, jumping from esteemed gentlemen to crazed lunatic at the drop of a hat. And that level of performance is seen from around the ensemble, which features empathetic turns from David Arquette and Jeremy Davies, strong and resolved offerings from Stephen Spinella and Neal McDonough, and a significantly odd Jeffrey Jones.
Overall, RAVENOUS is the type of fright film that reminds you about the importance of imagination in horror. While a cannibal tale can be familiar, it can also be frightening and fun when twisted to a more surreal and supernatural place. And with Antonia Bird and Co. leading the way, RAVENOUS takes glee in the disgusting and disturbing subject matter, offering a rare kind of film that resonates as well as warranting rewatching