Mouthfeel: A review of Ravenous

If there’s one thing which Hall & Oates, Nelly Furtado and Stephanie Meyer are absolutely positive about, it’s the appeal of maneaters.

Such harrowing tales of cannibalism have long haunted the lore of nearly every culture, but Antonia Bird’s 1999 feature Ravenous focuses on the Algonquian legend of the Wendigo: A person powered and possessed by an uncontrollable hunger for human flesh.

The narrative centers on John Boyd (Guy Pearce), a cowardly captain whose actions in the Mexican-American War are answered with exile to the seemingly dreary Fort Spencer. Upon his arrival, however, tedium is conveniently replaced with tragedy.

A bearded and bloodied F.W. Colqhoun, played by Robert Carlyle, stumbles up to the gates of Fort Spencer and stirs the serenity with the details of his escape from the cruel and cannibalistic Colonel Ives.

What remains of this film’s 141 minute run time is spent watching the Spencer soldiers’ insufferable attempts to confront the supposed suspect. But amidst an unimaginable myriad of plot twists, everything about their attempt goes horribly wrong.

Unfortunately for this erratic plotline, a combination of postmodern orchestral folk tunes, seriously questionable volumes of blood and heavy doses of morbid punnery leads more easily to confusion than compliments.

If the film were to be viewed as more of a dark comedy than a horror flick, all of its overly theatric antics might be a bit more palatable. Because watching Colqhoun and Boyd take turns wishing one another bon appétit whilst (borderline erotically) intertwined in the jaws of a bear trap is anything but horrific.

Yet despite its flaws, Ravenous is still one of very few films that I can honestly say I didn’t see coming. Whether this is actually due to originality of script or just sheer absurdity is even less clear, but still a notable feat for a ‘90s gore flick.

And while Pearce’s depiction of Boyd may be both lackluster and twitchy, Carlyle’s Colqhoun is convincingly anguished, yet charismatic—maniacal, yet facetious, which, if we’re being technical, builds a villain that lies perfectly between Hannibal Lecter and Gollum.

Does it necessarily save the hours of vacant rigidity offered by Pearce, or the awkward cameos of David Arquette? Maybe. But mostly it just makes you genuinely appreciate how polarizing casting decisions can be.

Does the myth of the Wendigo technically belong to the Canada and Great Lakes region? Is Calqhoun’s monologue about the miraculous ability of cannibalism to cure tuberculosis absolutely ridiculous? Do three-minute sequences of frontiersmen falling down hills start to get on your nerves? Yes. Absolutely.

But if you’re tired of watching elegant vampires daintily sipping on debutantes, then try this rugged rampage on for size. Because with Ravenous, not only are you getting twice the blood and half the brooding of more traditional “vampages,” but you’re also getting zero sex appeal.

And frankly, having no reason to care for a murderous monster makes stomaching their slaughters far simpler.