Friday, August 07, 2015

Rave[nous] Review

Once again, I recently found myself streaming a movie from Netflix that went in the queue so long ago, I couldn't remember where I'd heard of it. Based on the odd mash-up of its content, it could have been anywhere.

Ravenous is part horror, part Predator homage (briefly), and part comedy. (How much it intentionally sought to be that last thing is debatable, but I'll get into that.) Set in the 1840s, it follows Boyd, a veteran of the Mexican-American war whose courage failed him at a crucial moment... but in a coincidental way that led to a major victory. As both reward and punishment, he is transferred to a remote fort in the Sierra Nevadas. His bravery is soon tested again when a stranger named Colqhoun arrives with his own harrowing tale of survival -- he was part of a wagon train that became trapped by snow and resorted to cannibalism. Colqhoun urges the men of the fort to go after the mastermind of the atrocities, who is still holed up in the mountains. But local natives warn of the demonic powers granted to cannibals, and Boyd will soon learn the truth of this firsthand.

Production problems reportedly plagued this movie, with one director fired early in production and a replacement quickly brought on. It's possible this played a role in the bizarre tonal shift that comes over this movie at the end of the first act. It starts out quite tense and serious, and indeed could have gone on to be an effective suspense film. There are some potentially silly elements in the premise, but the actors play it straight with full commitment.

But then the movie jumps off a cliff (right around the moment the protagonist literally does). The story gets broad, silly, even stupid. The actors start to give deliberately campy performances. There's clearly potential here for a black comedy... though the movie unfortunately didn't start out as one.

You can't blame the cast. There are a lot of great people here -- some you'd know by name (Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle), and others you might only recognize from other places (Jeremy Davies, Neal McDonough, John Spencer). Perhaps the comedic aspirations of the film should have been more obvious to me from the presence of Jeffrey Jones and David Arquette, but there was something so very earnest about the set-up of the story that simply didn't match the madcap vibe of the last hour. In any case, this company of actors is giving it their all.

One element I can blame is the musical score, which is simply dreadful throughout. The movie never even has a fighting chance under the jarring instrument choices (banjos and hammered dulcimer mixed with synthesizers?), dopey hillbilly cliches (worthy only of a Deliverance parody), ludicrous chanting, and deliberately off key phrases. It's as though the composers were trying to draw attention to themselves more than they were trying to support the movie.

Maybe I would have felt differently if I'd expected something goofy from the outset. So I'll give you that tip if you ever decide to watch it. But I'll also give you the tip: don't watch it. I rate Ravenous a D+.

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