Cringe-inducing in every sense of the word, Ravenous attempts to have it three ways: It's a gory horror film, a bleak psychological drama, and one of the blackest black comedies ever made. But then, shrill doesn't equal scary, gallons of blood and gushing wounds don't automatically translate into visceral thrills, preposterous leaps in logic can't help but undermine dramatic tension, and black comedies need more than a few lame quips amid bone-snapping brutality to produce laughs. Guy Pearce, whose blankness worked wonders in L.A. Confidential but does nothing here, is a disgraced Mexican-American War veteran exiled to serve in a camp in the newly settled Sierra Nevada regions of California circa 1847. He and his new colleagues, each conveniently defined by a half-sentence of expository dialogue, soon encounter The Full Monty's Robert Carlyle, who tells tales of brutality and cannibalism in an ill-fated encampment three days away. But is he the victim or the perpetrator? For a while, Ravenous mines Carlyle's mystery and Pearce's past for creepy suspense, but the film quickly devolves into a ludicrous, nonsensical mess: According to an Indian legend, cannibalism induces vampirism-style virility and strength, with the side effect of hysterical, mustache-twirling overacting. Throats are slit, secondary characters are impaled, and wounds lovingly gape, all of which builds to a stupefyingly gory final showdown that should help Ravenous break Very Bad Things' record for highest percentage of audience members walking out of the theater in disgust before the credits roll. Meanwhile, a fine cast is either wasted (Saving Private Ryan's Jeremy Davies) or hamming it up beyond repair (Jeffrey Jones, Carlyle), while the clamorous score (by Michael Nyman and Blur's Damon Albarn) is jarringly incongruous with the events it accompanies. Ravenous will doubtless find some sort of cult following, but that cult will be following a lousy, ill-conceived movie.
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