As an allegory for the United States of America, Ravenous is so fucking perfect that it needed to be a comedy. The idea of imagining early Americans as cannibals granted supernatural powers by feasting on human flesh – the extrapolation to the modern day left to one’s imagination – would’ve been hard to stomach played straight.
Instead, director Antonia Bird twists the material to emphasis its blackly comedic underpinnings. She pairs the gruesome story with exaggerated foley – even the credits are accompanied by ‘swooshes’ – and an entirely period-inappropriate soundtrack (Damon Albarn!). The cherry on the suspicious-smelling cake is Robert Carlyle’s gloriously overdone performance – supported by equally-capable character actors.
An overly comedic approach would’ve blunted the allegory’s effectiveness, so Bird is smart enough to centre the film on one of this generation’s greatest character actors – Guy Pearce. The film leans on his leading man looks while gradually corroding his self-serious performance (driven by a presumably intentional stiffness); Pearce single-handedly keeps the Ravenous’s satire from descending into parody.
Really, the only thing holding the film back is the fingerprints of its troubled production, especially in its final act, which limps to a close after assuming a full head of steam. Still, it’s potent stuff.