Ravenous (1999) Food for Thought

Cover of "Ravenous"
Cover of Ravenous

The 1999 fim Ravenous stars Guy Pierce, Robert Carlyle and was directed, eventually, by Antonia Bird. It is a story of cannibalism, without the usual OTT shots of gore. It does have more than enough gore to satisfy the most vociferous “gore-hound” but it doesn’t meander into “Cannibal Holocaust” territory.

The story focusses around Guy Pierce’s character, Captain John Boyd. Boyd is the lone survivor from his command who is wiped out in a battle with Mexican forces in the Mexican American war. He plays dead as his subordinates and commanding officer are killed and he is “stored” with the dead bodies while their blood drips into his mouth. He crawls out and takes the Mexican command post captive.

He is heralded as a hero, but his commanding officer knows better and ships Boyd off into the middle of nowhere. Once he arrives at the near deserted army post of Fort Spencer, he barely gets settled in before  a man stumbles in from the snow (Robert Carlyle) with a story of cannibalism and death.

The fort’s commanding officer Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones) decides to mount a rescue operation.

Despite all the production problems that this film suffered, which seemed to come from the film’s producer Laura Ziskin micro-managing the film to near death, it has turned out very well.

The production values are brilliant, the FX pretty much spot on, and the locations beautifully matched to the scenes in the film. In short, the “mild” horror film, boasts a great “twist” on the story of cannibalism with its vague references to the notorious cannibal Alferd Packer and the doomed Donner Party.

With the idea that once human flesh has been tasted,  (which per the Windego myth gives you superhuman powers) one can never go back to eating “normal” meat, the film dances macabrely into black comedy territory.

The cast all acquitted themselves very well. Guy Pierce, a local lad from Ely, Cambridgeshire, England has proven yet again what a talented chap he is. Robert Carlyle is an actor that I unashamedly adore. His work never disappoints and I would literally kill to one day get to work with the man, he blows everyone else off the screen each time he comes on. Jeffrey Jones gives his usual brilliant performance and even the tiny part that David Arquette was given did not fail to impress.

For all the problems that the film encountered before a full reel of film was even produced, it has managed to entertain very well.  Two directors and constant script reworking added to the micro-management from Ziskin, should have ruined this small film, but it still does a great job of telling its twisted story.

The cinematography is crisp, clear and full of texture. The lighting is adroit and capable. The sound is all encompassing, especially when introducing the sounds of the wooded mountains where a lot of action takes place.

The film can best be described as a “horror/western” and it is one of those little gems that amply satisfies my craving for two of my favourite film genres.

Overall, I give this film a surprised  4.5 out of 5 stars. I will admit to having to restrain myself from giving it a full 5 just for the presence of Carlyle alone. The film is available on UK Netflix at the moment and well worth watching, popcorn bowl in lap.

Surprisingly great film!

Robert Carlyle photocall prior to Radio 5 Live
Robert Carlyle photocall prior to Radio 5 Live (Photo credit: Edinburgh International Film Festival)

28 Weeks Later (2008): Rage Squared


28 Days Later

I won’t lie. The main draw for me in this film was Robert Carlyle. I first saw him perform in Cracker he played a mentally unbalanced chap named Albie. He was completely believable in the roll.  I then saw him in the excellent Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, playing the scary Begbie. I became a life long fan as a result of his performances in those two films. So when I saw that he was going to be in 28 Weeks Later, I knew I had to see the film. He was the only reason, because Danny Boyle would not be in the driver seat for this iteration of the Rage saga.

Unfortunately the  small cozy feel  that  28 Days had is gone. It has been replaced with literally  hordes of people. I personally think the film  suffers because of this. It’s scope is wider and encompasses a broader area. These elements along with having a different director, changes the pacing,  feel and  direction of the film.

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 28 Weeks Later starts with a couple, Don played by Robert Carlyle and Alice played by Catherine McCormack who are in a fortified farmhouse with four other people.  They are all essentially  trapped  and it appears that the Rage outbreak is alive and well and spreading across the country.

A horde of  infected  break into the house and start attacking everyone.  Don runs to the end of the hallway and climbs out a window.  He jumps down to the ground and looks up to see Alice looking out of the window and screaming for Don to help her. Don is in complete  flight mode, panicked and desperate, he runs to the river outside the farmhouse. Hot on his heels are hordes of infected and their number increases as Don gets near the river. At the river he gets in a motor boat and barely escapes the area.

28 weeks later, all the infected have starved to death. An American NATO task force has been dispatched to England to begin cleaning up the mess and repatriating people who were outside the country when the Rage epidemic swept the country. Alice and Don’s two children, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) are among the first groups to be allowed back into the country. During a medical examination  Major Scarlet Ross (Rose Byrne) notices that Andy has different  one blue eye and one brown eye. Tammy and Andy explain that their mother also had different coloured eyes.
 Tammy and Andy  are reunited with their dad, Don. He lies and tells the children that he saw their  mother die.  Don also explains to the children that he is the head maintenance man for the safe zone and that he can access any area in the building.
Tammy and Andy  decide to sneak out and go to their old house to get some pictures of their Mother. They are seen by a sniper, Sergeant  Doyle (Jeremy Renner) who reports that the children have left the  area.   Once  the two children  get home  they find more than a picture,  they find Mum . Miraculously still alive she has somehow made her way back . Just as Mum and the kids find each other, the Army arrives and takes them all  back to the safe area. All three are placed in quarantine and Mum is separated from the children and has tests done to see if she is infected.
Both Tammy and Andy are furious with Dan and want to know what really happened. Dan is in a state of shock and says that the children have no idea what it like during the outbreak. He then goes to see Alice using his all area pass. Meanwhile Scarlett has discovered that Alice is carrying the virus but is not showing any of the symptoms.
Don enters Alice’s quarantine area and begs her to forgive him for  running away.  Alice  does and they share a kiss. As the saliva comes in contact with his lips, Don is instantly infected. The virus screams through his system and he kills Alice with his bare hands. Don then single handedly sets about infecting the safe zone.
At this point in the film we  sense that, like a house of cards, the safe zone is going to fall apart.  The virus shoots through the facility with the speed and violence of a tornado. Scarlett grabs Tammy and Andy and they make a run for it. Along the way they pick up Sgt Doyle and the small group try to get out of the now infected safe zone.
Throughout the rest of the film Don unrelentingly goes after Andy. I don’t know if this is because he shares his mothers  eye colours  or some other reason. It is never explained in the film. What is apparent however, it that just about every occupant of the safe zone is now infected. Before Doyle gets taken out of the picture by a flame thrower, another sniper  arranges  for a helicopter to collect the small group of survivors.
The film is very well paced, but I felt that Robert Carlyle was the most interesting thing in the film. That is not to say the film isn’t good, it just isn’t as great as the first one.  Losing Danny Boyle meant losing that sharp focus and intense feeling that 28 Days later had in spades.
Still if you are a Carlyle fan, it is worth the time spent watching the film just to see his performance.
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