Joshua Reviews Antonia Bird’s Ravenous [Blu-ray Review]

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There are unsung directors, and then there’s a filmmaker like the late Antonia Bird.

A rarely talked about, yet oddly intriguing filmmaker, Bird is a name that is relatively well known among fans of niche TV and genre film work, but prior to her death in 2013, was a name behind some of the more polarizing pictures of her time. However, there’s one film that has seemingly become more and more beloved among her canon. Entitled Ravenous, Bird’s film is not only one a deeply beloved cult classic, but it is now finally available on Blu-ray, and in one hell of a package.

From 1999 comes Bird’s great horror picture, a film set in 1847 during the American gold rush. After an act of cowardice, Capt. John Boyd (played by Guy Pearce) is sent away to an outpost for rejects in California, ostensibly left to rot away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Along with a team including a melancholic commander (Jeffery Jones), a chaplain (Jeremy Davies), the resident drunk/doctor Knox (Stephen Spinella) and the pair of nihilistic soldier Reich (Neal McDonough) and drug-addled cook Cleaves (David Arquette), Boyd must not only battle the odds, but apparently a man who has seen his troupe fall apart, so deep into despair that they resorted to cannibalism to survive. Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) walks into camp with a harrowing story, but one that is apparently not entirely bred in truth. A breathtaking, white knuckle thriller of the highest order, Ravenous is not only deserving of this jam packed home video release, but is a genuinely superb thriller that boasts a handful of superlative-worthy aspects, primarily from Bird.

Aesthetically, this film is shockingly beautiful. A deliciously violent period picture, the film carries with it as much grit and grime aesthetically as one could ever hope for from this type of period-based thriller. The cinematography here is absolutely gorgeous in all of its brutal earth toned glory, and the script here is a really great blend of genuine thrills and some truly great black comedy beats. However, the score here from Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn is one of the greatest and most unusually moving bits of film music ever composed. A small scale score, the music is anachronistic and yet entirely fitting of this picture, never drawing too much attention upon itself, instead acting as nothing more than a shockingly haunting backdrop for what is otherwise a bizarrely bleak black comedy.

Thankfully as well, the performances are uniformly great here. Each character a seemingly heightened collection of character tropes, the film is led by two magnetic lead performances from Pearce and Carlyle. The latter is particularly enjoyable here and has a blast with this breathless piece of writing that is the screenplay. The battle between the two leads here is entrancing and genuinely thrilling, and while Pearce’s Boyd is a bit lower key than the cartoonish stranger played by Carlyle, there is so much energy on screen when they are together that this film becomes a genuinely moving thriller of the highest order. Toss in kinetic performances from the likes of McDonough, Davies and particularly a shockingly fun Arquette, and you have a film that is both thrilling, bone chilling horror picture, and a genuinely moving meditation on the true horrors of war and what one must suck down in hopes of winning a battle.

A much anticipated release from Scream Factory, they didn’t spare any expense. The transfer here is absolutely superb, especially when discussing the film’s score. Really breathing new life into what is likely the most talked about aspect of the picture, the score is given new life here, really making it hard to believe that this thing hasn’t seen re-release after re-release over the years. A genuinely great bit of film music, this thing is unlike any bit of composition cinema has ever really seen. There are also a disturbing level of supplements here, including a collection of supplements from the previous Fox DVD release. Three commentaries join this release, all three of which are relatively minor in content, all of which amount to ostensibly one full track. The greatest of the bunch is one with Bird and Albarn, probably the releases most interesting supplement. Carlyle gets a track himself, as do writer Ted Griffin and actor Jeffrey Jones, probably the longest of the bunch. Bird is on commentary for a series of deleted scenes, and a few trailers and TV spots round out a release that has truly been years in the making. A great home video release for a truly great cult gem, this is a must own Blu-ray from one of the most exciting names in genre cinema distribution.