In 1847, Captain Boyd (Guy Pearce) is awarded for bravery during the Mexican-American war, but he takes no pride in it. What happened was that he played dead, was loaded onto a cart of bloody corpses and forced to drink the dead men's blood as he lay trapped - and the taste stays with him. Recognising Boyd's uselessness, his General (John Spencer) sends him to a remote Californian fort in the mountains, but soon a mysterious stranger (Robert Carlyle) arrives there, with a horrifying tale of cannibalism that strikes too close to home for Boyd...
One for the vegeterians, Ravenous was scripted by Ted Griffin, and two directors attempted to bring it to the screen before Antonia Bird took over. As a cannibal film, it has the courage of its convictions, with the craving of human flesh being not only depicted as an infectious disease, but also an ethically corrupting panacea and a source of boundless strength. This is what Boyd has to fight against: not only the moral depravity, but the addictive, invigorating quality.
Our hero is a weak-willed failure, and it's this weakness that torments him. When he is asked what he won his medal for, he answers, "Cowardice" - all the way through the story he struggles with the temptation of the potency that the meat promises. The Native Americans call the evil Colonel Ives a "Wendigo", a spirit who feeds on others with insatiable hunger, and there is a subversive allusion to the Christian Communion to show the notion isn't just confined to the Indians.
As Boyd, Pearce suffers manfully, never cracking a smile, conveying the horror of his situation and his numbing self-awareness. Casting Carlyle capitalises on his talent for playing dangerous men: here he is witty and threatening, especially when musing seductively on the merits of his dining habits. Other actors fill the roles of various misfits that inhabit the half-forgotten fort, such as the world-weary Jeffrey Jones or the permanently stoned David Arquette - all of them victims in the making.
The action is set against striking landscapes, but despite its historical trappings, Ravenous is basically a slasher movie with pretentions, and it's no surprise that it ends in a bloody battle to the death. More could have been made of the power games that the cannibalism gives rise to, the feeding off others to gain dominance; not so much dog eat dog as man eat man. However it has a nasty humour and its strong central idea convinces: that if you give up your sense of decency, you can have an authority over others - but at what cost? The music by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn veers from the quirky to the atmospheric.
British director who moved from television into films with the controversial Priest. Hollywood beckoned, but Mad Love was an unhappy experience, and she returned to Britain to direct heist movie Face, which led to cannibal horror Ravenous, then a return to television. Frequently worked with Robert Carlyle.