It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Of course a vampire is simply a cannibal with good table manners, and "Ravenous'' is a darkly atmospheric film about an epidemic of flesh-eating and the fearsome power that it brings. It takes place during the Mexican-American War, in an isolated U.S. Army outpost in the Sierra Nevadas, when a half-dead man (Robert Carlyle) staggers into the fort with the story of snowbound travelers, starvation and worse: "We ate the oxen, then the horses, then a dog, then our belts and shoes ... .'' Eventually one of the party died of starvation, and they ate him. Then they ate others ... and by now the commander of the fort has heard enough, and determines to send out a party to investigate. All of this is shown in dark colors and a soundtrack of chimes and mournful cries; low, ominous, burbling percussion, and far-off female laments. "Ravenous'' is the kind of movie where you savor the texture of the filmmaking, even when the story strays into shapeless gore.
The movie stars Guy Pearce, the honest cop in "L.A. Confidential,'' as a man named Boyd who becomes an accidental hero during a war battle. Mistaken for dead, he's piled under corpses; blood trickles into his mouth and gives him the strength to capture an enemy outpost. He's decorated, but his commanding officer sees the cowardice beneath his luck and sends him to a godforsaken outpost where the story takes place.
Fort Spencer is a caretaking operation in a vast wilderness, presided over by Hart (Jeffrey Jones), a genial commanding officer who acts more like a host. The soldiers are all cracking up in one way or another, except for Reich (Neal McDonough), a gung-ho warrior. The others include the second-in-command, Knox (Stephen Spinella), the religious Toffler (Jeremy Davies), Cleaves the cook (David Arquette) and some Indians. From the Indians comes the legend that when you eat another man's flesh, you possess his past and assume his strength, and your hunger becomes insatiable.
The movie has established its cold, ominous tone long before the real story reveals itself. That happens when the characters return to the cave where the travelers are said to have taken shelter. There's a creepy sequence in which Reich and Toffler enter the cave and then traverse into an inner cave, where what they find is not a pretty sight. Then there are surprises and revelations, and unspeakable things happen to some of the characters, or at least we think they do.