Sunday, July 17, 2011

Parting Shot: Ravenous

In order to really understand what sot of vitamins you'll be consuming by taking this, please be sure to read the ingredients in Bill's review of Ravenous over here.

There is , I believe, little doubt that Antonia Bird’s Ravenous operates rather differently in its two halves. In that respect, your review proves accurate, in particular with regards to the unusual nature of the first of these two halves. No, the film, at that point at least, is not aiming for pure horror sensibilities, although there something undeniably disturbing things about that portion of the film. Some of the characters are rather light (one thinks back to the Jeremy Davies character, for example), and Robert Carlyle’s tale of cannibalism is told primarily through unreliable, quick cut flashbacks, so the sense of dread rests more on what the viewer’s imagination can conjure up than any genuine scares produced on screen before our eyes. Then, there is the Michael Nyman-Damon Albarn score, which you wisely mentioned and described how it also played a significant role in setting up this strange tone. Your use of the word ‘dread’ might seem à propos, although even despite what was happening on screen, there was something about how director Bird constructed and presented this world which still hinted at something lighter than the nature of what we were seeing. That is why I keep referring to the tone as ‘strange’ for it felt like a hybrid between oddball comedy and horror, like Bird was performing a gangly balancing act on a high wire. It is apt to consider the attempt daring, for I doubt many could readily feel at ease with how things develop. It refuses to be very light, but also refuses to be some sort of mean spirited horror film. To that I say bravo, Ms. Bird.
Where our views diverge more intensely is in how the second half made each of us react. This portion of the film left you disappointed in how Bird seemed to borrow from horror movie tropes to satisfy, let us say, the lowest common denominator. She may have shown technical proficiency in the way she handled the material, but for you it was not as rich as the first half, which demonstrated more gusto and daring. I, on the other hand, while, yes, admiring the technical skill on display, discovered much more interesting thematic story beats occurring. I was a little surprised to read your review and discover that not once did you mention the character arc of the Guy Pierce character, Captain Boyd. What Bird does in the second half of the film is callback to the initial reason why Boyd is there at the fort in the first place: because he was deemed a coward by his superior officers. Knowing that, the fact that Robert Carlyle is always playing psychological games with him, seducing (or trying to) him into joining a variation of ‘the dark side,’ becomes all the more deep in terms of story and character beats. The film makes a strange attempt at trying to tie in what the cannibal is doing with the American expansion of the west, but this effort mostly falters.  Story-wise and thematically it does not work in the slightest and is revealed far, far too late in the picture for it to hold any impactful significance, but there is a lot going on in that second half that rings powerfully with regards to the personally journey of Captain Boyd. Bird decorates many of the scenes with traditional horror ingredients, but she does not lose sight of the aforementioned story aspect that had to be driving the entire movie all along.
The film’s second half also explains, albeit in very exaggerated terms, what the ‘raison d’être’ of the Robert Carlyle character is. I like the fact that he cares not for his fellow soldiers, save the few who have joined him in truly living meaning of the ancient Native American tale of eating a man’s power. His performance, which I felt so clearly demonstrated that he was relishing the opportunity to portray such a bizarrely villainous creature, was captivating until the character’s final breath.
Was it that the ‘been there and done that’ horror genre tactics masked what was occurring underneath the story surface? A pity, really, since I believe Antonia Bird pulled off a wonderful little coup. This was made all the more satisfying given that the actor at the center of it all was Guy Pierce, whom I thought to be rather bland when watching an earlier film in this marathon, The Proposition. This film took a similar performance and character (essentially, a bland one) and used it dynamically.
Seriously, Bill, what’s eating you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our difference definitely is found in Pearce. You saw something I didn't, I'll have to look for that next time out.

Glad to see you give the score some thought, I really dug it, so much so that when I have the time I'm going to seek it out to add to my ever growing amount of scores on my iTunes.

Now, let's saddle up and get those (root) beers!