Apparently, director Antonia Bird passed away at some point today. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding her death, or anything, but this sad news did remind me of one of my all time favorite flicks, Ravenous.
It’s a hard movie to quantify, or define in a “what genre is it in” sense. It’s a period piece about turn of the century America, and PTSD. It’s also a mystery story, that deals with a traveling party that goes crazy in the wilderness, it feels very Donner Party esque, which was probably a starting point for the writers. I guess, at the end of the day, you could describe it as a “horror” film, as it deals with cannibalism, but not in a straight forward, contrived way. It actually gets into some interesting Native American mythology, as it deals with the myth of the Wendigo. It’s a neat twist, that makes it not only a movie about cannibals, but also a movie about possession, giving it a supernatural slant. Also, the movie gets point for not making Native American mythology feel “cheesy,” as is usual the case whenever that stuff is used in stories.
It’s such an odd, little movie, but in the best way possible. It could have been a straight forward, by the numbers “cannibal/horror” movie, but what we got was something much more special and unique. It has a fantastic pace, and period-centric score that always makes things feel off kilter. You’re never made to feel comfortable, and are always kept on edge. The movie has a menacing tone to it throughout, and the tension has a natural build as the main character basically goes crazy. We really feel like we’re in his shoes at all times, as he desperately tries to make sense of what is going on, and regain his “honor.” Ravenous is all about how the desire for control, whether literally or in a more existential sense, can drive people to do horrible things. The devil only shows up when the world/people is at it’s weakest, and more often than not it/we fail when faced with an easy, yet morally comprised, way out.
It’s also a really nasty picture. Everything about the movie feels “anti Hollywood.” There are no objectively “good,” or “bad” characters, the world is dirty and unpleasant, and there is no “positive” resolve. There isn’t anybody to really “root for,” in a traditional sense. That’s probably why the movie was a complete flop when it came out, and even now I don’t hear it brought up all that often when people talk about “forgotten gems.” Hell, I forget about it most of the time too, which is strange, because it left such a large impact on me when I was a kid.
I remember watching the trailer for this and being completely entranced, even though the original trailer purports a much more straight forward movie. Oh man, I was so blown away when I finally talked my dad into renting it for me. Everything about it spoke to my burgeoning weirdness. I probably watched it three or four times that weekend, and soon after that it was one of the first DVD’s I ever purchased. Haha, now that I’m thinking about it, I bought Ravenous and Frequency at the same time. My first two DVD’s! Man, what an odd pairing that was. Well, my tastes are nothing if not eclectic, I suppose. Some things never change, and that’s not always a bad thing!
After hearing about the director’s passing, and thinking about how great Ravenous is, I looked her up on IMDB, as I couldn’t think of anything else she had done off the top of my head, and when you have as much useless information in your head as I do, it’s a rare moment. Much to my surprise, I haven’t seen anything else that she’s directed. After Ravenous she did a lot of TV stuff, and it was all for British television, so no real surprise there. It kind of bummed me out, because she definitely was a talented women, and it seems after the financial failure of Ravenous she was never really given another shot. It’s a shame, really. It seems that she was heavily involved in theater stuff, though, and ran a production company with one of the film’s stars, Robert Carlyle(Who’s really great in the flick, by the way.). So, there’s that.
I wish she had made more films. She was a unique and interesting voice in cinema, there’s not enough filmmakers like that working, and, selfishly, I would have liked to see more. Well, we’ll always have Ravenous, Antonia Bird. So, thanks for that. You were one of the reasons I fell in love with movies.