USA/UK 1999

Reviewed by Philip Kemp


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

1847. Following a dishonourable incident in the Mexican-American War, Captain John Boyd is transferred to Fort Spencer, an isolated outpost in the Sierra Nevada mountains commanded by the disillusioned Colonel Hart. Also at Fort Spencer are the drunken Major Knox, the ultra-religious Toffler, keen soldier Reich, peyote-addicted Cleaves, and two Native Americans, George and his sister Martha.

While Cleaves and Martha are off fetching supplies, a stranger stumbles half-dead into the fort. He identifies himself as Colqhoun, survivor of a group of settlers snowbound in a mountain cave. Prompted by the group's leader the settlers had begun eating each other. Colqhoun joined in, but escaped to avoid being eaten. Leaving Knox at the fort, the others go with Colqhoun to the cave, where they realise he had eaten all his companions. Colqhoun stabs Hart and kills Toffler, George and Reich; Boyd jumps off a cliff and breaks his leg. While it heals, he survives by eating the corpse of Reich.

Boyd limps back to the fort, but his story is disbelieved. General Slauson, the area commander, appoints a new CO: Colonel Ives, alias Colqhoun. Alone with Boyd, Ives recounts how, as a former invalid, he regained strength and health through cannibalism, and urges Boyd to adopt the same practice. Boyd attacks him, and is chained up. While Martha is dispatched to fetch Slauson, Knox and Cleaves are killed by Hart, whom Ives had turned into a cannibal. Repentant, Hart frees Boyd, who slits his throat. After a savage battle Boyd lures Ives into a huge bear trap, where they die together.


Ravenous was a troubled production: the original director, Milcho Manchevski, was fired, and Robert Carlyle persuaded (or, according to reports, "practically blackmailed") Antonia Bird, with whom he'd worked on three previous films, to take over. Such events usually herald a turkey, but in this case the end result, though uneven and at times incoherent, has enough ideas going for it (maybe even a few too many) to sustain momentum, helped immeasurably by the headlong frenzy of Bird's direction.

Kicking off with a quotation from Nietzsche, and tossing in references to Benjamin Franklin and Native American myth as it goes, Ravenous makes free with its conceptual reference points. At its heart is the idea of cannibalism as a proselytising movement, eager to attract new blood in more ways than one: gaining strength not only from the victims who are dismembered and eaten, but also from new converts to the creed. The religious parallel is underlined by the Native American George who recounts the legend of the Weendigo, a creature who absorbs the power and very spirit of each person it eats, adding casually, "Like man eats Jesus Christ each Sunday."

There's also a hint at a political subtext, with Ives/Colqhoun musing ironically on the westwards-expanding doctrine of Manifest Destiny, and referring to America as, "a country seeking to be whole, consuming all it can." (In his case it's an even more self-serving doctrine than usual, since he foresees a steady stream of westbound pioneers heading his way to serve as sustenance.) Ted Griffin's script dangles these references as if to lure us into thinking we're watching something serious. But essentially Ravenous is an ingenious period-costume reworking of that reliable old staple the closed-community horror movie, of which Alien (1979) and John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) are other variants, though its eat-or-be-eaten theme suggests a sideglance at subversive one-offs like Bob Balaban's Parents (1988) or Brian Yuzna's Society (1989) both of which worked through their ideas more cleverly.

Whether due to script problems or last-minute reshoots, Ravenous comes apart towards the end. An abrupt, unmotivated change of heart by the recent cannibal-convert Colonel Hart is used to slice through a plot crux, after which the showdown between Boyd and Ives degenerates into standard hayforks-in-the-barn mayhem where something far more towering and apocalyptic was needed. Whatever his subsequent misgivings, Carlyle plays Ives with a fine edge of callous relish, though Guy Pearce, terrific as the straight-arrow cop in L.A. Confidential, here can't do much with a role that mostly asks him to react. No doubt conscious of the script's weaknesses, Antonia Bird's typically dynamic camera goes into compensatory overdrive, wheeling and careening and zip-panning in mounting hysteria at every menacing moment. By itself this would be fine, but the hyperactivity is compounded by the contributions of Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn, collaborating on what must be the loudest and most bombastic score since Maurice Jarre pulled out all the stops for Ryan's Daughter.


Adam Fields
David Heyman
Ted Griffin
Director of Photography
Anthony Richmond
Neil Farrell
Production Designer
Bryce Perrin
Music Composers/Performers
Michael Nyman
Damon Albarn
©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Production Companies
Fox 2000 Pictures presents an Adam Fields/Heyday Films production
Executive Producer
Tim Van Rellim
Producer's Associate
Joseph Boyle
Production Supervisors
Petr Moravec
Mexico Unit:
Natasha Wellesley
Production Services, Czeck/Slovak Republics
Production Co-ordinators
Emma Mager
Veronika Horká
Mexico Unit:
Belinda Uriegas
2nd Unit:
Barbora Jurkovicová
Production Manager
Ondrej Sláma
Unit Managers
Vladimír Seiml
2nd Unit:
Petr Splichal
Locations Managers
Jirí Krejcír
Mexico Unit:
Gloria 'Pekas' Lozano
UK Supervisor:
Michael Solinger
UK Co-ordinators:
Tracey Gibbons
Jatinderpal Chohan
Production Consultant
Anna Roth
2nd Unit Director
Arthur Wooster
Assistant Directors
Jirí Ostry
Martin Sebík
Olda Mach
Mexico Unit:
Mark Griffiths
Miguel Lima
Efren del Moral
Julian 'Chico' Valdez
2nd Unit:
Jan Mensík
Robert Zapletal
Script Supervisors
Beverley Winston
2nd Unit:
Martina Pálková
Billy Hopkins
Suzanne Smith
Kerry Barden
Mexico Unit:
Claudia Becker
Rogelio Rojas
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Ervin Sanders
Camera Operators
George Richmond
Martin Grosup
Jirí Maxa
Mexico Unit:
Colin Scott Corby
Guillermo Rosas
2nd Unit:
Tim Wooster
Steadicam Operator
Mike Bartlett
Digital Effects
Peerless Camera Company
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Kent Houston
Digital Effects Producer:
Susi Roper
Digital Effects Compositors:
Steve Cutmore
Tim Ollive
John Swinnerton
Optical Effects:
David Smith
Martin Body
Special Effects
Terry Glass
Mexico Unit, Supervisor:
Jesús Duran
Jaroslav Stolba
Floor Supervisor:
Jirí Väter
Dana H. Suddath
Pavel Sánger
Roman Tudzaroff Jr
Martin Oberlander
Jirí Vojtech
Andrej Vavrena
Mexico Unit, Technicians:
Fermín Duran
Adrián Duran
Alejandro Duran
Antonio Cornejo
Francisco Cornejo
Sergio Gomez
2nd Unit, Co-ordinator:
Jirí Väter
Supervising Art Director
Karel Vacek
Art Directors
Adam O'Neill
Mexico Unit:
Ricardo Spinacé
Set Decorators
Jirí Zucek
Mexico Unit:
Marco Niro
Václav Vohlídal
David Vondrásek
Storyboard Artist
Igor Tosevski
Costume Designer
Sheena Napier
Wardrobe Mistress
Vera Mírová
Chief Make-up/Hair Artist
Fae Hammond
Additional Make-up/Hair
Anne 'Nosh' Oldham
Mexico Unit Make-up
Raúl Sarmiento
Mexico Unit Hair
Francisco Jaramillo
2nd Unit Make-up/Hair
Libuse Barlová
Prosthetic Effects
KNB Effects Group
Prosthetics Artist
Ivo Strangmüller
Main Titles Design
Chris Allies
Digital Title Effects
The Computer Film Company
Opticals/End Titles
Studio 51 Opticals
Scarlet Letters
Pacific Title/Mirage
Featured Musicians
Ben Paley
Guitar/Jew's Harp:
Tab Hunter
Matt Goorney
Squeeze Box:
Bing Lyle
Featured Vocalists
Milton Quiltman Sahme
Gail Turcotte
London Voices
Score Conductor
Michael Nyman
Michael Nyman
Gary Carpenter
Additional Sequence Orchestrations
Damon Albarn
Additional Orchestrations/ Programming
Tom Girling
Robert Worby
Music Editors
Bunny Andrews
Terry Delsing
Score Engineers/Mixers
Austin Ince
Tom Girling
LA Sound Supervisor
John Larsen
Sound Mixers
Mark Holding
Mexico Unit:
Fernando Cámara
Re-recording Mixers
Adrian Rhodes
Mike Prestwood-Smith
Re-recording Mixers
Jim Bolt
Gerry Lentz
Supervising Sound Editor
Roger Mitchell
Audio Researcher
Jane Goddard Carter
Dialogue Supervisor
Tim Hands
Tim Hands
UK Recordist:
Ted Swanscott
Jack Stew
Felicity Cottrell
Mike Dowson
Mike Carter
Mike Redfern
Derek Trigg
Stunt Co-ordinator
Paul Weston
Frantisek Mésícek
Mexico Unit:
Brian Thomas
Jesus Almontes
Ota Bares
David Schmidt
David Korbel
Head Wrangler
Mexico Unit:
José María 'Chico' Hernandez
Guy Pearce
Captain John Boyd
Robert Carlyle
Jeremy Davies
Jeffrey Jones
Colonel Hart
John Spencer
General Slauson
Stephen Spinella
Major Knox
Neal McDonough
Sheila Tousey
Bill Brochtrup
Joseph Running Fox
David Arquette
Fernando Becerril
Gabriel Berthier
Pedro Altamirano
Mexican commanders
Joseph Boyle
US blonde soldier
Damián Delgado
Fernando Manzano
Mexican sentries
Alfredo Escobar
Gerardo Martinez
David Heyman
Tim Van Rellim
Mr MacCready
Miezi Sungu
Abel Woolrich
20th Century Fox (UK)
9,056 feet
100 minutes 38 seconds
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011