This Brazilian film has plenty of bite, reserved in full for the bourgeois cannibal economy of capitalism.
Two consenting male adults meet to fulfil a mutual fantasy, only to get interrupted by police.
MOTEL HELL is one horror's best satires, of other movies in the genre, as well as food, the industry surrounding it, and the people who eat it.
A young woman enters adulthood, also discovering the sickening lure of cannibalism.
Scarce. 2008. Directed & Written by Jesse Thomas Cook and John Geddes.
Starring Steve Warren, Gary Fischer, Chris Warrilow, Thomas Webb, John Geddes, Jesse Thomas Cook, Stephanie Banting, Gavin Peacock, Matt Griffin, Jaclyn Pampalone, Jackie Eddolls, & Jason Derushie.
Bloodlife Films/Two Door Four Door Pictures.
Rated 18A. 93 minutes.
Some movies are so bad they’re good. Others are just downright bad, to the point you’re unable to enjoy anything about them other than fleeting moments. Often times you can find enjoyment in a bad film because it’s fun to laugh, poke fun, point out all the bad effects, performances, and whatever else makes you chuckle a little. In certain situations depending on the film, this can make for a so-bad-it’s-good cinema experience.
Then there are horror flicks like Scarce, which cross over into the so-bad-it’s-embarrassing category. This little Canadian horror is never quite able to find its footing. A few scenes are creepy, a bunch are gory and nasty. Other than that it’s poor acting, uninspired directing, and a general mash of ill conceived attempts at tackling the backwoods cannibal horror it so clearly reveres.
Funny. I had a better time watching the Making Of documentary included on the DVD than I did watching the film. That’s only half a lie. I always try to find the good in each movie I watch, no matter how bad it gets. Problem being that there just is not good in every movie. Not all art is art – some of it’s pop, some of it’s art, some of it’s trash. Those are the odds. And odds are, you’ll also agree with me on this one.
One of the immediately awful parts about Scarce is the fact it’s a Canadian production, clearly filmed in Canada and with Canadian actors, yet they’ve insisted on making it out as an American setting. First off, the accents of a couple actors give away this whole fact. Secondly, I’m not entirely sure why they would bother doing this when there are plenty of backwoods locations across Canada where you can set an isolated film such as this one. Often it’s to appear more commercial, though I’m still not sold on that being of any use.
Later, it isn’t just the performances that are weak. Even little moments that are meant to be scary or dramatic come off as weakened thuds, rather than landing with any impact. For instance, at one point Ivan (Steve Warren) whacks Dustin (Thomas Webb) as he exits the outhouse, and this not at all any type of large stunt, it’s not expensive or intricate, but it looks like absolute dog shit. Small moments like this come off as poorly conceived and executed, which does nothing for the film overall. Only makes the amateur, low budget feel of the movie more evident – this doesn’t always detract from independent cinema, only when it’s painfully obvious, almost pathetically so like here.
The acting is what really does Scarce no justice. While certain elements of the plot and a couple nasty bits of blood are intriguing enough, there’s no good acting to be found. And I don’t care how interesting of a story, or how creepy any of the scenes can get, without solid acting there’s no way any movie can rise above its flaws and feel enjoyable. Although, I have to give it to Steve Warren. Sometimes he can be the worst of them, in terms of performance. All the same, in comparison with his murderous counterpart played by Gary Fischer, his work is decent. In a couple scenes he’s terribly cheesy and forced, but every now and then he’s eerie beyond belief. So even if his acting isn’t close to great, he’s certainly one of the better parts about the performances even if he shits the bed in his role from time to time.
The backwoods cannibal sub-genre in horror has been done time and time again. Many of us horror fans love a good dose of cannibalism, especially if it’s going down in the isolation of secluded, wooded areas. Right back to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a personal favourite of mine (and so many others), and all the way up to the mostly yawn inducing Wrong Turn franchise. Most of Scarce just feels lazy. As if the writer-director pair opted to take many of the cliched elements in the sub-genre and jam them into the single plot. A lot of the writing itself is lame. There are absolutely unsettling qualities. However, dialogue such as when Ivan talks about how they’ll soon be “nothing but [his] shit” and other of his/Wade’s ramblings make the story and the its characters more laughable.
Visually, there are some moments I enjoy quite a bit. The biggest is when Ivan and Wade take the guys out in the morning to let them free in the woods, before hunting them with a rifle, and there’s this excellently eerie piece of music from the score along with a stylized, brief sequence of Wade hauling the two victims by their chains, them bloody and worn down. This was a solid, if not too short scene. A little while later once the guys are running through the forest, there are some nice shots. It’s too bad this couldn’t have extended to the rest of the sequences where everything felt overwhelmingly bland. These couple minutes actually look great and then we quickly return to the film’s laziness.
Finally, it’s the hole blown in Ivan that takes the cake for best effect. They probably blew a large portion of budget on this one gag alone, as it’s a combination of CGI and practical work. Nevertheless, it definitely works, and the hole in his torso looks genuine. A nice dose of gore in the the final ten minutes to really try and impress us. Too little too late, but a noble effort indeed.
I can’t give this any more than 1&1/2 stars. Even then I’m not totally sure it deserves that much. Still, there are little elements in Scarce that give you enough to hold onto, if only for a little while. You certainly won’t be blown away, by anything. Not once.
At the same time, give it a chance and at least see the effects. There’s a bit of sloppy gore, some wild blood. I own it simply because I bought it on a whim for $10 somewhere. Definitely not something I’d seek out to buy otherwise. At least there’s partly some spirit of horror alive in this flick. Underneath so much less than mediocre fare.
Peau Blanche a.k.a White Skin. 2004. Directed by Daniel Roby. Screenplay by Daniel Roby; based on the novel by Joël Champetier.
Starring Marc Paquet, Marianne Farley, Frédéric Pierre, Jessica Harris, Julie LeBreton, Lise Roy, Joujou Turenne, Raymond Cloutier, Marcel Sabourin, and Jude-Antoine Jarda.
Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
I’ve been a longtime user of the Internet Movie Database, though not a fan of the message boards; mostly I dig trying to level out the ratings even in the slightest sense as one man, as well as doing shorter reviews for a few choice films here and there. As someone who’s seen 4,100 films and counting, I find it hard to just ask people “Hey can you suggest a movie for me?” because honestly – not trying to be grand here like a know-it-all, not trying to impress – but after that many movies it is damn near impossible for most people I know, who aren’t film buffs, to come up with something I’ve not seen. So, I end up turning to a lot of lists; other than a good friend of mine, a filmmaker by the name of Ben Noah, not many people in my circle(s) of friends are actually huge into movie watching.
Many lists, horror and otherwise darkly toned, end up suggesting La peau blanche (English title – which I’ll use from here on out: White Skin). The cover art alone always stuck with me, very literal with the white skin yet intriguing nonetheless. The guy on the front is white but a little less so, his eyes extremely blue. All contrast against the woman, her gingery near blonde hair flowing, then her face and neck almost disappearing into one as a wave of white skin, reddish lips around the middle. I’m often reeled in by interesting artwork for movies, some times this doesn’t work at all. But there’s something about a cool looking poster that can get me interested immediately. Not only that, when I hear words like cannibalism, vampire, succubus – these sorts of things – I tend to perk up even more. Add to all this the fact White Skin is a Canadian film, you’ve got yourself an interesting bit of work.
Thierry (Marc Paquet) and Henri (Frédéric Pierre) end up in a hotel with a couple hookers one night. During their encounter, one of the women attacks Henri, leaving his neck bloody and wounded. While Henri’s family is out for justice, neither he nor Thierry obviously wants to pursue things any further due to the fact of what they’d actually been up to.
A little while later, Thierry ends up seeing a woman in the subway playing the flute. Strangely enough he finds himself attracted to her, even though he earlier admitted to one of the prostitutes that redheads make him sick, all due to their incredibly white skin; he says seeing the veins under the skin turns him off. Yet somehow this woman, Claire Lefrançois (Marianne Farley), turns out to lure him. One night he sneaks in to watch her play piano at a recital. Further and further he’s drawn to Claire, until they start to see one another regularly. Despite the fact she insists they ought not see each other any longer. Thierry falls harder by the minute, almost to the point of physical deterioration. Mentally he begins to slip, from school to everyday life. He discovers Claire has cancer. Of course he stays right by her side.
But once there are even wilder, more dramatic revelations, Thierry discovers an entirely different world existing right below the one he used to know.
“We could discuss what’s eating you”
The U.S. title for this movie is awfully on-the-nose. Too much. Part of the enjoyment here is the slow build. You know there’s something not quite right. Very clearly once Claire starts telling Thierry he should forget her, it’s apparent. But getting there, the journey is what’s important. Cheesy, and true. Not only is there an excellent plot development happening over the course of the film, the weird love story itself is pretty good. I’ve seen complaints in reviews online that this was an area where the screenplay lacked. Now I’ve never read the original novel this is based on, so perhaps that’s got something to do with it in comparison. However, I find the movie has a few amazing scenes where the love story comes out. You might say the entire thing is a love story. It’s more of a mystery, filled with drama and horror. Definitely a dark fantasy sort of feel at times, like a modern day fairy tale. So to each their own. White Skin definitely has an interesting story at its core, as well as it surprised me at times when I had no idea where things were headed.
Even more than all that, the relationships are solid. Particularly I loved Thierry and his friend Henri. They have such a complex dynamic, not usual in a lot of films; something Canadian movies are always doing, the unusual in such a perfect way. There are numerous tense moments between Thierry and Henri, though, they feel like actual friends, as opposed to two characters written into a forced relationship. There are both sides of the coin – good times, bad times. So I think in a short time this friendship comes across well, the actors and the screenplay together make for proper character development between the two.
When all the horror aspects come flooding out, the movie gets fairly tense. Consistently I was never sure what might happen next. And man – did the ending ever catch me by surprise! It’s an odd finish to the film, yet at the same time it was fitting. Completely. It’s as if everything tangles into a big mix near the middle, then the last 15-20 minutes becomes pretty wild in moments, as well as some blood/gore sneaks in. All in all, I found the good relationships + the entire screenplay built up excellent tension. Afterwards, all the mysterious horror which breaks through only serves to be the cherry on top, so to speak. In the end, that big jumble of themes and character/plot development unravels into a nice finale.
I’m giving this a 4 out of 5 star rating. White Skin is a film all Canadians should see, simply to support homegrown cinema. Furthermore, it does a great job with all the elements from drama to mystery to horror. The movie is low budget compared to Hollywood, clocking in with one million dollars. At the same time, I don’t feel there are many instances where the budget shows in a bad sense. Most of the film is shot wonderfully, the actors are pretty much all competent at the very least, so anyone who says this is “too low budget” is only being foolish. Check this one out if you’re into semi-cannibalistic/vampiric stories, dark fantasy, or even if you just love a nice little mystery. Give it a chance. I was very happy with the DVD purchase – rare film, so I found it on eBay. Soon I’ll do a good DVD review, as there are a few quality special features included.
Ravenous. 1999. Directed by Antonia Bird. Screenplay by Ted Griffin.
Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies, Jeffrey Jones, John Spencer, Stephen Spinella, Neal McDonough, Joseph Runningfox, Bill Brochtrup, and Sheila Tousey.
Rated 18A. 101 minutes.
Frequently working with actor Robert Carlyle, director Antonia Bird was quite the talent – she sadly passed away two years ago in the fall. Her previous films with Carlyle, Priest and Face, were both vastly different, as is Ravenous. However, there’s something deeply intense about each one of them. While Priest concerns a Roman Catholic priest struggling with his homosexuality, Face is a rough story of capitalism amongst gangsters in 1980s Britain. In turn, Ravenous is a horror period piece set in California during the 1840s which takes on the concept of manifest destiny – using cannibalism as a metaphor.
So it’s easy to see that Bird wasn’t simply a director, I found her work took on a sort sociopolitical landscape, each taking on their own fight. Not to say you can’t just enjoy these films on their own, certainly you can. But it’s always more interesting to me when a solid film also has a message behind its flashy looks and gestures.
Ravenous, to me, is a perfect film. Others find it not near such a piece of work, however, that’s fine. I understand why certain people may not like it. Personally, there’s a perfect balance of everything here which combines together into a very entertaining and at times scary movie. There is so much to love here: the look of the film, the feel of its colours and its vibrant scenery; the unsettling story at its centre, the performances; and on top of ALL that a highly different score from Blur’s Damn Albarn and the fantastic Michael Nyman. This is one movie I remember seeing when it came out in 1999, afterwards I rented it constantly in my last year of high school and watched it repeatedly. There’s a mystical quality about Ravenous – it’s at times dark and terrifying, others it has a tongue in cheek feel to its black comedy. This is one film which never loses appeal for me and every single time I watch it many scenes continue to creep me out, no matter how many times I see them.
After the Mexican-American War and nearing the tail end of the 1840s, Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is celebrated for taking an enemy command from behind Mexican lines singlehandedly. After General Slauson (John Spencer) realizes Boyd was able to do so out of a cowardly act – hiding under a pile of his platoon’s dead soldiers until the time was right – he promotes him instead to a hateful outpost in Fort Spencer, along the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Once there, he meets the man strange inhabitants of the lonely military outpost: Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones) the jolly yet aloof man running everything; Private Reich (Neal McDonough), a certifiable psychotic of a soldier; Major Knox (Stephen Spinella) the resident doctor and drunkard, found most mornings vomiting before anyone else is out of bed; then there’s also two Natives, Martha (Sheila Tousey) and her brother George (Joseph Runningfox), the “over-medicated” Private Cleaves (David Arquette), and religious fanatic Private Toffler (Jeremy Davies).
Shortly after Boyd’s arrival, a strange man wanders into the outpost, emaciated and weary, almost near death. The soldiers take him in and nurse him back to health. They discover his name is F.W Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle). He proceeds to tell them a terrifying story of how their party got lost in the wilderness and ended up finding shelter in a cave. As conditions worsened and they were stuck inside, all the food ran out. Eventually, similar to the story of the Donner Party, the group resorts to cannibalism. Scared for his life, with only himself, a woman named Mrs. MacCready, and a dangerous army man called Colonel Ives left, Colqhoun ran into the wild and wandered for weeks until reaching Fort Spencer.
Deciding they had a duty to go out and try to find any survivors, Colonel Hart, Captain Boy, and all the rest set out with Colqhoun in tow. Along the way they all wake one night to the screams of Private Toffler who insists Colqhoun was doing something to him – “he was licking me,” Toffler tells them. Insisting they tie his hands for fear he might do something else, Colqhoun leads them further on to the cave where he and his party succumbed to their base instincts. There, a horrifying secret is revealed. What follows is Captain John Boyd’s efforts to not simply survive, but to also reclaim his bravery when again faced with shades of his previous cowardice.
To start, I’ve always loved the individual performances in this film. Some times when you have an ensemble cast like this, character development can get lost amongst the runtime; you can’t always let every character say a ton, or do a ton, and too often filmmakers sacrifice this in order to cut down on the length of a film. With Ravenous, the screenplay from Ted Griffin (in my opinion it’s easily the best thing he’s ever written) allows each character enough room and time to be heard, as well as the fact Bird’s direction gives everyone equal measure. At least, that is, until certain events really put a damper on all the fun; in a good way, though, plot-wise.
I don’t want to go through every single character, but I need to mention at least several.
First, there’s the supporting character of Private Toffler played by Jeremy Davies. He’s a great character actor who has appeared all over film and television. This movie is actually the first time I remember seeing Davies and being incredibly impressed; one of those small performances that stuck with me and then prompted me to go back and see anything else I could with him in it. This is a quirky role, very strange, but I think Davies is the only guy who could pull it off without it straying into a laughable performance. There’s a sensitivity to his religious solder Toffler I don’t think many young actors would’ve tapped into in the same way.
Second there is Neal McDonough. He plays the insane Private Reich. I even love the brief cutaway to him standing shirtless in a freezing, running river as Colonel Hart first talks about him to Boyd; great, quick moment. Even though his character is one of the many unfortunate souls in the early half of the film to have a fatal run-in with Colqhoun, we’re treated to a decent bit of his performance. McDonough’s not someone I usually find particularly great, except for a couple roles, but I’ve no doubt that his performance as Reich is a fun one. He’s got the cocky sense about him exhibited in so many other roles he plays, yet it works so well here; along with that there’s also a sternness in him that usually doesn’t come across. Nice job with a brief role.
Now the main two performances from Robert Carlyle and Guy Pearce are the best of Ravenous. It doesn’t hurt to have an excellently filled out supporting cast, such as this film has. Regardless, Carlyle and Pearce each hold beyond their weight.
There’s great range in Guy Pearce. Not sure how he’s viewed overall by people, but I think he is a fascinating actor. Here, he plays a man whose cowardice is evident in his own mind, he battles with it nearly every moment of his life. After his experiences during the Mexican-American War, Boyd is a broken man because he know what he did was cowardly, but there’s no changing it, he has to live with every bit of that. Even worse, his act of bravery after lying under the corpses of his dead platoon mates only came about because of the power of the Wendigo. This is something he’s forced to confront all over again after Colqhoun annihilates the rest of the soldiers in his outpost. He takes the coward’s way out by jumping off the cliff, which I assume he thought would probably have killed him, rather than face Colqhoun. Then he’s stuck in the pit with a dead Reich, forced to first strip him for warm clothing and afterwards munch on him for energy. Even worse is once he gets back to outpost, Colqhoun shows back up as Colonel Ives, and then he’s made to confront the cannibalism all over again. There’s this desperation in Boyd which I found Guy Pearce evokes INSANELY well. I honestly can feel the weakness in Captain Boyd just through the look in Pearce’s eyes, the way he breathes, the way he talks meek and mild; he comes across as a man not meant to be a solider, merely forced into it because that’s the way life was in those days. Remarkable performance on his part.
Robert Carlyle is one of those actors I’ve always enjoyed, from the moment I first saw The Full Monty and Trainspotting, I knew his talent was full of gifts. He can play so many different roles. Despite not being a man of huge stature, a skinny type of fellow, Carlyle has a command and intensity in him which makes him scary at times. This is why his role as Colqhoun/Colonel Ives works well for him, he can work well as a softer, gentler type like Colqhoun pretends to be, then once the Ives persona breaks out he’s a vicious, predatory animal with a coy edge. Having him play off Pearce is a match made in heaven, especially as the story progresses. Some of their later scenes – particularly the one where Boyd puts a knife to his throat as Martha then does the same to him – are just downright goosebumpy. Their energies are completely different and made the plot more intense for it; both Carlyle and Pearce give it all they’ve got here and without them the film wouldn’t be nearly as darkly charming.
Ives: “Y’know it’s not courage to resist me. It’s courage to accept me.”
The story of the Wendigo is something that’s interesting, as well. I love how the script explores the idea of manifest destiny through the perspective of cannibalism. I could go more and more into depth with all of that, but I don’t want to bore anyone. Mainly, I like how the aspect of cannibalism sort of takes on the form of a metaphor through which we view manifest destiny, the idea that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the continent. Colqhoun/Ives takes on that idea, as he hopes to spread the gift of cannibalism far and wide. He talks about how when spring comes, many people will be travelling to and from the outpost, through their grounds, so in the same way Americans in the 1800s (and some still today) believed their religion/ideals/et cetera would spread throughout the continent and become the way of life, Ives sees this as how cannibalism will also become the American Way.
And in a sense, cannibalism is the same as manifest destiny – the idea that one culture/group/way of living will effectively consume all and any others completely whole, barely stopping to chew or swallow. So I think Ted Griffin’s script is near genius. A really awesome metaphorical horror film that doesn’t HAVE to be taken as metaphor; there’s still a palpable, exciting plot and story involved.
Regarding film in general, Ravenous is in my top ten period pieces. Ever. Honestly, there’s so much to love about Bird’s film. You really feel as if you’re back in the late 1840s. Everything from the costuming, the facial hair, the locations and set pieces, all comes together to really make the period feel real.
The costumes and the makeup were spectacular. I found especially David Arquette, with his character’s rotten teeth and hygiene in general, looked good. That’s one of the best examples of the small makeup jobs which made the atmosphere work.
Added to the costumes and the makeup, the facial hair, all those little bits and pieces, Bird directs this film with grace. Not only that, the cinematography is UNREAL! Beautiful, dark, smooth. Anthony B. Richmond does the camerawork here and looking him up I’m amazed to see a few other titles I love in his resume: director of photography Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (one of my top 5 films), cinematography on Bad Timing, Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner, director of photography for Candyman, and more work as cinematographer for Bastard Out of Carolina, among more. So it’s no wonder the film has an impressive look; despite a few blemishes, I think Richmond has done incredible work on the titles I listed, particularly the work he’s done for Roeg. His look is a smooth yet textured style and I think that helps in many aspects with Ravenous, particularly when it comes to a lot of the exterior shots. One big part of why I love this film.
Finally, I have to mention the score a little bit. I’ll start by saying one half of the composing due here, Michael Nyman, has done a TON of wonderful work: the beautiful and wild documentary Man on Wire, The Libertine, Gattaca, Jane Campion’s The Piano, and some interesting work on films like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and A Zed & Two Noughts. Added to his already exciting talent, Ravenous also has the benefit of musician Damon Albarn being a part of the composing process. There is a ton of weird music here, but instead of taking away from the film it adds a very integral piece to the puzzle. While Albarn and Nyman could have easily gone for something more traditional – lots of strings and such or anything similar – they opted to bring a lot of different sounds into a mix that throws you off your guard. There are strings, harpsichords and such, there’s lots of horns, then we also get almost electronic sounds pumping out at times. It’s a massively extensive mix, somehow these two make it work. Their score is one of the most memorable film scores I’ve ever heard. It will ALWAYS stay with me and any time I think of innovative, fresh music in the movies I constantly come back to Albarn and Nyman here in Ravenous.
Antonia Bird’s Ravenous is hands down a 5 star film. While many might see it as simply a piece of historical fiction, horror added in for flavour, I think this movie has more than just one single promising aspect. There is a heavy dose of atmosphere from Bird in the directorial chair, along with Anthony B. Richmond at the camera’s helm – add to that several intense performances, a well-crafted script from Ted Griffin and a strangely beautiful score, and I don’t see how more people aren’t a fan of this masterpiece.
An unusual gem from the end of the ’90s, Ravenous may not be everyone’s cup of tea. For me, I get a dose of history, bits of legend from the Native tales of the Wendigo, as well as a MASSIVE injection of spookiness. Even a good helping of gore here and there amongst it all.
If you’t not yet experienced this film, or even any of Antonia Bird’s work, I suggest you get out and watch soon. She was an important director and it’s sad to see her pass away only barely into her sixties. Either way, she left us with some good movies to ponder over, and I’ll keep on watching Ravenous at least a handful of times every year. It’s that damn good.