Director Antonia Bird was brought in at last minute on the advice of star Robert Carlyle. One would like to think that the choice of director was due to Birds aptitude and grasp of the material rather than the desperation move of being the only available director. Alas, Antonia Birds previous experience had been on British tv and with human drama stories like Priest (1994) and Mad Love (1995), not with historical drama or horror and she betrays a lack of feel for the genre, not to mention any clear notion of what tone to take.
There is a dreadful sinking feeling that sets in from the opening title card, which quotes from Nietzsche He that fights with a monster should watch that he does not become a monster, and then follows it up with Eat Me attributed to Anonymous. The film improves little throughout. The climax with the two antagonists fighting and impaling one another on everything from swords to knives, pitchforks, meat cleavers and finally bear traps gets amazingly silly. It might have worked in a patently B movie or in the unreal confines of the action genre, but in a serious historical drama the effect is fatuous. Bird has clearly instructed both Robert Carlyle and Jeffrey Jones to play as broadly as possible and the tone offsets many of what might be otherwise serious scenes such as Joness return from the dead.
Ravenous is also graced with one of the most bizarre scores one has seen in an A-budget film in some time. The two composers seem to have attempted to try to write it using as many different instruments as possible throughout, everything from pianos, electric guitar, full orchestra, bells, bugle and bluegrass guitar, these often being quite eccentrically and atonally matched together. Needless to say, the effect is distracting bordering on ludicrous some scenes such as the entry into the cave or with Robert Carlyle murdering the investigating party and pursuing Guy Pearce through the woods rob what might otherwise be competently directed scenes of suspense with this laughably inapt score. (Apparently, the entire score was performed by people who had no musical training too).
Antonia Bird lacks a grasp of directing horror. It seems telling of the misguidedness of approach that in a film about cannibalism that we never actually see anybody devouring human flesh. There is much to the film suspenseful plot twists, the heros story being greeted by official disbelief, a hero hung between surrender to impulse and moral restraint, a sustained psychological showdown between the hero and the villain that have the making of a good movie by anybody who has a grasp of how to milk this sort of material. Unfortunately, good horror directing is something that eludes Antonia Bird her idea of horror is caught between campy overacting or else silly shock effects like having Robert Carlyle snap a book shut loudly while sitting at the fireside.
There is a potentially good script beneath the film. In the hands of a decent director, some scenes like Jeffrey Joness return from the dead and the discovery that Robert Carlyle is the cannibal in the wagon train massacre and later the new colonel could have been milked for much impact. There is one well written scene where Robert Carlyle points out his grand scheme of desiring to devour the flesh of the great American westward pilgrimage and we see a looming metaphor of something that is eating beneath the concept of Manifest Destiny but the idea is subsequently dropped. There are a number of other scenes where one wishes the script had clarified more. Guy Pearce starts to believe in the concept of the wendigo but the film never explores whether this is real or merely his delusion. And there are other questions why it is that people enjoy eating human flesh so much and how do they gain an insatiable hunger for it; or even who Robert Carlyles character is Colquhon or Ives? and if the former (as after all, we do see Ivess uniform among the remains in the cave) how a Scotsman then manages to become a colonel in the US Army.
There was a fad in Italy during the late 1970s/mid-1980s for cannibal movies films like Slave of the Cannibal God/Prisoner of the Cannibal God (1978), Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and the notorious likes of Cannibal Holocaust (1979) and Cannibal Ferox (1981). Despite being made on a tenth the budget of Ravenous and suffering from bad dubbing, bad scripting and bad acting, they have a gruelling, full-on gutsiness that, despite their lack of sophistication, hits everywhere that Ravenous in its laughably tame obsession with experimental scores, campy overacting and jokey tone, misses by miles.