Directed by Antonia Bird. USA. 1999.

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In the field of horror/thriller films, it is the understated menace that is the most terrifying. A Freddy Kruegar or a Jason is easily forgotten. After all, they require a chainsaw, hockey mask, and absent minded victims in order to be the least bit frightening. A Hannibal Lecter doesn't need to do anything except speak to chill you to the bone. A Jason you can avoid merely by taking the precaution of not entering the woods by yourself after midnight. A Hannibal Lecter could be anyone, anywhere. 

As the little gem Ravenous boasts an equally well written and portrayed villan, it comes as such a surprise that it has been so overlooked. As the lead performer of the film (Guy Pearce of Memento) is touted to be a contender for the Best Actor Oscar this year, this earlier work may enter the spotlight.

Images from Ravenous. All Rights Reserved.Ravenous stars Guy Pearce as Captain John Boyd (circa 1847) who, through an act of cowardice, gets himself banished to a remote fort in California. (Which seems for all the world to be an outpost for the dregs of the US military of the time). One stormy night he looks up and out his window to see a mysterious face pressed up against the glass. Enter Robert Carlyle (Full Monty, Trainspotting) as Colqhon. Desperate to gain the soldiers aid and frozen to the bone, he relays a tale to the men of the party he was with being led astray through the Sierra Nevada mountains. He'd been travelling with six. Two were still alive.

All the performances in this film are superb; the most noticeable is that of Robert Carlyle. He portrays such a multifaceted personality with ease, displaying everything from being overly lugubrious when found shivering and scared outside John Boyd's cabin; to a terrifying calm in his final scene. Robert Carlyle is a definite screen presence. He is a magnetic and charismatic man. More than that, he is a chameleon, able to step into the shoes of whoever he chooses to portray; going from an unemployed steel worker, (Full Monty) to "Ravenous'" maniacal Colqhon, while making every incarnation appear effortless. 

I adore thrillers where both the protagonist and the miscreant are equally well written and well acted. (So often that isn't the case.) Guy Pearce's still John Boyd is an excellent match for Carlyle's Colqhon, the characters meld brilliantly. Pearce gives a quiet strength to Boyd, which balances out Carlyle's energies more than adequately. His tragic hero is equally as well layered, his moments on screen just as mesmerising. His look of resignation when his superiors send him packing to Fort Spencer is absolutely heartbreaking.

The supporting cast in this film is wonderful. Each character is a non-stereotypical entity, and they all mesh well, adding so much to the feel of this film. Particular note must be made of two memorable performances, those of Jeffrey Jones and Jeremy Davies.

Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice, The Crucible) portrays the leader of the errant band of men at Fort Spencer, Hart. He aproaches life at the fort with a dry sarcastic wit worthy of David Hyde Pierce on his best day. 

Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan, Twister) is a character that I wish they had spent more time on, as he is the most endearing member of the team of Fort Spencer's soldiers. He portrays the highly strung member of the group, named Tofler. His final scene with Robert Carlyle is going to go down as one of my favourites in thriller films. The petrified look on his face, the fact that Carlyle looks like he's having too much fun. Just priceless. 

Gentle reader be warned, the one flaw I have to pick with this film is that Ravenous is, at times for lack of a better word, gross. There are scenes in this movie that are absolutely stomach churning. But, for those who choose to shut their eyes at appropriate moments, or for the brave that choose not to, Ravenous, is a tightly written, suspense filled, brilliantly acted, terrifying piece of work. 

Jen Johnston
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