An eccentric historical horror tale whose blackly comic tone wavers distracting. Set in Northern California in 1847, it's predicated on the notion that you are quite literally what -- or who -- you eat. Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce), traumatized by a particularly grotesque experience on the battlefield, is branded a coward and banished to a harsh, sparsely manned outpost in the Sierra Nevada mountains. There he answers to the weary Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), whose men consist of chaplain Toffler (Jeremy Davies); loco-weed addled Cleaves
(David Arquette); drunken medic Knox (Stephen Spinella); Reich (Neil McDonough), the only competent soldier in the bunch; and a pair of Native American caretakers. The encampment's stifling boredom is relieved by the arrival of a half-dead Scot named Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) who tells a terrible story: While trying to cross the mountains under the guidance of a disreputable military colonel named Ives, Colqhoun and his party of settlers became snowbound, took refuge in a cave and were soon forced by hunger to begin eating each other. Colqhoun escaped, leaving behind a woman and Ives, who, Colqhoun hints darkly, became addicted to human flesh. Suffice it to say that all is not as it seems, because the unpredictable meanderings of the film's peculiar plot are its greatest asset -- that and Carlyle's feral performance as the mysterious Colqhoun. Ted Griffin's screenplay merges elements of the ill-fated Donner party's travails with the legend of the Sawney Bean clan -- 17th-century Scottish cannibals who preyed on unsuspecting travelers -- adding in a dash of Native American mythology and some metaphorical musings about the hunger that fueled America's westward expansion and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. It's an oddball mix — probably made odder by the fact that original director Milcho Manchevski was unceremoniously fired during production and replaced by Antonia Bird — and if nothing else, it's certainly not quite like anything you've seen before.
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- Released: 1999
- Rating: R
- Review: An eccentric historical horror tale whose blackly comic tone wavers distracting. Set in Northern California in 1847, it's predicated on the notion that you are quite literally what -- or who -- you eat. Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce), traumatized by a part… (more)