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A bunch of stranded settlers eventually turned to the only food available: each other


Based on a real incident in 1846 known as the Donner Pass Disaster, in which a group of pioneers heading for California became snowbound and survived by eating their dead companions, this is a stomach-churning take on the most potent of all celluloid taboos. Be warned: Ravenous might start out as a kind of macabre, frontier-set Alive, but a few neck-cricking plot twists take it to some very dark places, very quickly.

After an act of cowardice during the Mexican-American War, Captain John Boyd (Pearce) is banished to a desolate military outpost in the remote reaches of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Here he encounters a motley collection of military misfits under the despondent command of Colonel Hart (Jones).

One night, a half-starved Scot named Colquoun (Carlyle) staggers into the camp. He claims to have escaped from a group of west-bound settlers who, on becoming snowbound, turned to cannibalism to survive. He also recounts the old Indian myth of Weendigo, which states that a man who eats the flesh of another steals that person's strength, his spirit and very essence. His hunger becomes insatiable and death is the only escape.

Perhaps unwisely, the company resolve to rescue the women and children who, Colquoun insists, are still alive, and the mysterious Scot leads them back to the cave where the atrocities took place. At this point, things take a turn for the seriously weird, to say nothing of the damn scary and the absolutely revolting. And it just keeps getting more bizarre, more sickeningly gory and more queasily comic right up to the totally demented finale. Ravenous is not like any film you've seen before. And if you've ever felt a bit funny in the butcher's, you'll never want to see anything like it again.

Antonia Bird's pitch black comedy is a patchily hilarious triumph. But the queasy and squeamish have been warned.