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Film / Ravenous (1999)

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"He who fights monsters must see to it that he himself does not become a monster."

"Eat me."

Ravenous is a Horror Comedy Western released in 1999, written by Ted Griffin and directed by Antonia Bird. Starred Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Davies, Jeffrey Jones, David Arquette, and Neal McDonough.

Captain John Boyd is a Shell-Shocked Veteran of the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. As a Lieutenant going into his first battle, Boyd panicked when his unit was caught in a devastating ambush and rather than attempting to fight back or lead his men to safety, Boyd instead played dead in the hopes of saving his own life. When the Mexicans began collecting and burying the bodies from the battle Boyd found himself in a pile of bodies when, for no apparent reason, a powerful surge of strength and determination filled Boyd. This allowed him to break free, kill several enemy soldiers, and capture the nearby Mexican commanders.

At first the Army intends to present Boyd as a clever and ruthless hero, but it soon becomes obvious that despite his single brave action Boyd's nerves are shattered and he's incapable of presenting the heroic facade the Army wants. General Slauson responds by giving Boyd a reassignment to Fort Spencer, a ramshackle and barely manned fort near the Sierra Nevada mountains whose only purpose is to serve as a stopping point for pioneers traveling to California.

When Boyd arrives the fort proves to be populated mostly by drunks, misfits, layabouts, and crazies. Boyd is just settling into his life of quiet failure when a rambling loon by the name of Colqhoun stumbles up to the fort with a horror story: he was part of a party of six pioneers who found themselves trapped in a snowstorm as they tried to cross the mountains. When they ran out of rations, they ate the pack animals. When those were gone, they ate their leather clothing. When that was gone, one of the pioneers starved to death. But instead of burying the body they ate him. Before long they were hungry again, and found themselves looking at each other oddly...

Colqhoun tells them that when he left the remnant of the group, there were two others still alive, the wife of one of the pioneers and their treacherous guide, Ives, who had seemed to truly embrace cannibalism. The Colonel of the fort sets out with his ragtag soldiers to attempt a rescue, unaware of the terrors they'll find...

Not to be confused with the unrelated 2017 film of the same name.

This film includes examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Major Knox.
    Col. Hart: Never found a bottle he didn't like.
  • And This Is for...: ... my horse, right after mentioning a murder.
  • Anti-Villain: Col. Hart at the end, when he rejects a life of cannibalism and allows Boyd to kill him rather than continue living in such a way.
  • Arson Murder And Life Saving: This is how Boyd earned the backhanded promotion that landed him at Fort Spencer - he captured the enemy outpost only after he froze in combat, then played possum and let his men be slaughtered while he tried to save his own life.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: At one point when Reich and Boyd venture into the cave where the pioneers took shelter, Boyd violates one of the biggest rules of gun safety when he carelessly winds up pointing a loaded rifle straight at Reich's head. Private Reich then has to remind Captain Boyd about always being aware of where the muzzle is pointed. A nicely subtle way of reinforcing how useless Boyd is as a soldier.
  • Artistic License – Military: Fort Spencer's skeleton crew consists of three privates, one captain, one major and one colonel. There is not a single NCO. Things get only weirder after two privates, the colonel and their native guide get killed, but no replacement aside new colonel is sent, even if there is already a major and a captain in place, but a dire shortage of rank and file - those three officers command a single private. Normally, a captain commands a company, which is roughly 120 men. For the given period, someone with the rank of Captain would almost certainly be the commanding officer of Fort Spencer, especially since it's wintertime skeleton crew.
  • Author Tract: The writer, the director, and the leading actor are vegetarians, and take every chance they get to show their disgust of meat. A constant theme is comparing the flesh of animals to the flesh of humans. However, the honesty of that disgust enhances the horror beautifully. And, to be fair, that stew looks really good.
  • Ax-Crazy: Private Reich seems more than a little unstable. Presumably this is what got him sent to Fort Spencer in the first place.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Boyd definitely thinks so as does Hart in the end.
  • Big Bad: Colonel Ives kills his way through the cast of the film.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Nearly the entire cast gets killed, but Ives's plan to create a conspiracy of super-powered cannibals is brought down with his death. With a touch of Died Happily Ever After - Boyd got Reassigned To The Frontier because of his cowardice, and became a cannibal because he's afraid to die, but in the end he finds both the courage to act and to willingly accept death in order to stop Ives and end the hold the Wendigo curse has on him. The ending does have one element of a true Downer Ending, namely that Boyd didn't think to throw out the "Stew a la Major Knox" before confronting Ives, and General Slauson finds it and promptly finds it very much to his liking. This raises the possibility that all of Boyd's battling and sacrifice were for nothing and the cycle of the Wendigo cannibal will start again... although it's unlikely the General would know or find out what is in the stew he ate, and thus also unlikely he'll repeat it again.
  • Black Comedy: The film has certain elements of it, especially when you add in Soundtrack Dissonance during some horrific scenes.
  • Black Dude Dies First:
    • The first member of Colqhoun's party to bite it in the flashback is the token black "servant". Somewhat justified since, as a "servant", he was probably the worst-fed of the entire party before going on the expedition, and had the least fat reserve to draw on. If you look at other starvation-and-cannibalism stories across American history (for example, the famous case of the doomed whaleship Essex), you'll see that, sadly, the question of who died first was all too often drawn along racial lines.
    • Also George, a resident native, dies before any of the other (white) main characters. Although another character, who was white, had already been mortally wounded and was on death's door... but then he also wound up not dying because Ives converted him to cannibalism, so...
  • Buried in a Pile of Corpses: Boyd plays dead in one for a time, resulting in him ending up in the enemy base and singlehandedly capturing it from the inside.
  • Cannibalism Superpower:
    • In the film, the Wendigo myth is (broadly) true, and furthermore a human who eats human flesh is granted Super-Strength, a Healing Factor, and it cures disease as well. It also is so addictive it makes heroin seem about as addictive as artificial sweetener.
    • It's all but said that this is the reason why Boyd was able to perform his sole heroic act in the war. He gained his sudden burst of strength and determination after having the blood of other men accidentally poured into his mouth, so he appears to have gotten a temporary, watered down version of Wendigo's power.
    • Ives also implies that cannibals become sexually potent, though that might just be him making up for lost time after regaining his health. He was in bad shape (as in, on death's door due to tuberculosis) before he started eating people.
  • Cannibal Larder: When the group from Fort Spencer reaches the cave where the pioneers took shelter, Boyd and Reich find a deeper level below the entrance. Reich goes inside and quickly sees that it has been turned into a larder, complete with multiple human skeletons either hanging up or lying around on the floor, completely stripped of meat. And then Reich realizes with horror that there's one too many skeletons there to fit Colqhoun's story, and that Colqhoun himself must be the cannibal.
  • Carnivorous Healing Factor: Eating the dead gives the person superhuman powers, including fast healing, making them virtually unkillable as long as they have time to recover.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Boyd ends up with this problem when he tries to warn the others about Ives. Everyone still alive at the fort never saw Ives when he appeared, calling himself Colqhoun, and Boyd is a newcomer they barely know who's acting crazy. If anything, Boyd winds up being the target of their suspicions.
    • Well, Major Knox was there, but he got himself blackout drunk either while or just after treating Colquhoun, and as a result his memory of the occasion is pretty much shot.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Boyd is the main character, but he's an unequivocal coward who's not exactly hero material.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Wondering why the drunken Major Knox is the fort doctor? Because he's a legitimate doctor... it's just that horses are usually more his field than people.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The drunken sot Major Knox knocks Boyd out with a single punch at one point. Later when Colonel Hart is commenting on the stew they made out of Knox, he comments that Knox "was stronger than he looked". It didn't do Knox much good, however. Note the use of past tense.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Colonel Hart most of the time, though he's revealed to be more Stepford Snarker in the end. When he first runs down the personnel situation at Fort Spencer to Boyd, (telling him how the drunken Major Knox is the one who plays doctor if they need someone to do so, and Cleaves the stoner is the local chef) he gives us this gem:
    "My advice to you: don't get sick. I'd say don't eat, but then again most of us have to."
  • Dirty Coward: Boyd. Everybody knows it, including him. He let his entire unit get massacred around him while playing dead in an attempt to save himself. He only captured the Mexican officers because he swallowed the blood of dead officers that had dripped into his mouth and it gave a minor version of the Wendigo's Cannibalism Superpower. But in the end, he finds the moral and physical courage to fight the monstrous Ives to the death, and when Ives is on the edge of victory Boyd willing gives his life to take Ives with him.
  • Dying as Yourself:
    • Hart asks Boyd to kill him because he doesn't want to live as a cannibal anymore.
    • When both Boyd and Ives are caught in the bear trap, Ives dies first, leaving Boyd caught in a moral dilemma. Boyd can eat Ives' body and probably survive the wounds he has taken so far but he'll be lost forever to being a Wendigo, or he can refrain and be free of the Wendigo's Horror Hunger that has tormented him and taken a toll on his sanity ever since he survived the ambush at the cave, but doing so will cost him his life. In the end Boyd chooses to die instead of eating Ives.
  • Eating Shoes: Played for drama. After running out of provisions and then their draft animals, the pioneers went for the next "edible" things in their stock:
    After that we turned to out belts... shoes... any roots we could dig up but you know there's no real nourishment in those.
  • Emergency Food Supply Animal: In Colquhoun's story, the trapped pioneers ate the oxen, horses, and "even my own dog", before moving on to their own shoes and belts, and finally, each other.
  • The End... Or Is It?: At the end of the film, the newly-arrived General Slauson greedily slurps up the "Stew a la Major Knox", thus becoming a cannibal and setting up the potential to start the whole mess up again. Of course, the good general wouldn't know where the meat came from, or how to repeat the experience, so that throws some doubt as to whether things will in fact start over.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Boyd becoming nauseous at the sight of blood on his fellow officer's plates, at the ceremonial dinner being held to celebrate his supposed "heroic victory" and puking his guts out all over the ground, in full dress uniform.
    • Private Reich is quickly and wordlessly introduced with a brief shot of him shirtless in the middle of a rushing river in wintertime, roaring at the top of his lungs. Reich is also the only soldier who's not Mildly Military, instead taking it in the other direction.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Reich, despite being a hardened and ruthless soldier, is visibly horrified when he sees the remains of Ives's victims.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: More like "Determinator Cannot Comprehend Coward". Ives is visibly shocked that Boyd would jump to seemingly certain death rather than stay and try to fight for his only real chance at survival. Note that Boyd really was committing suicide, and the fact that he lived was pure luck.
  • Evil Colonialist: When Ives's true plan is revealed, Manifest Destiny ends up morally equated with cannibalism. He compares America's unerring expansion westward as a Horror Hunger that the country needs to sate in order to survive.
  • Evil Tastes Good: Ives certainly thinks so, especially given his state before he turned to the dark temptations.
  • Evil Redhead: Exaggerated when Hart turns Wendigo he regains his youth and his hair goes from grey to red. When he dies, it goes back to grey again.
  • Face Death with Dignity: At the end, Boyd calmly accepts his fate. And in a very odd way, Ives does as well, even though "dignity" is not the word that usually comes to mind with cannibalism.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Boyd gets a medal for fainting bravely in the face of danger.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Again, Ives, who manages to make Boyd look absolutely insane by virtue of being so damn convincingly charismatic to everyone else.
  • Final Girl: Downplayed with Martha. Although she is not the protagonist the way a classic Final Girl would be, it feels very deliberate that she is the only character to survive the story unscathed.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Colqhoun has a rosary wrapped around his hand when he arrives at the fort. Although it is possible to miss seeing it, the same rosary can be seen in his flashbacks belonging to Mrs MacCready, whom he claims to have left behind with Colonel Ives. That Colqhoun has her rosemary and says nothing about it or to indicate why is the first clue that he is not at all what he seems.
    • The pioneer flashbacks provide more of this. The scenes describing the journey have plenty of detail, and show the struggle of the pioneers, but certain things are more or less hidden from viewers. Mostly, the appearance of Ives and how the various pioneers died. This is done to hide the fact that Ives and Colqhoun are apparently one and the same, and that it was Colqhoun who did all the murdering.
    • While telling the story, Colqhoun has a hard time recalling the names and origins of the party members. That's because he never really cared about those people and only saw them as a meal.
    • After wiping out the party from Fort Spencer, at one point Ives is seen chuckling to himself as he drags Toffler's body into the cave. Considering we later see him eating outside in the stream, why was Ives dragging it in there? For Colonel Hart to eat, as we will find out later.
    • Hart is about the only character shown eating food that isn't meat when he is munching on walnuts when Boyd first arrives at Fort Spencer. Hart later proves to be unable and unwilling to live as a cannibal, to the point that he begs Boyd for a Mercy Kill rather than continue on that path.
    • Hart's line early on advising Boyd "don't eat, but then most of us have to." Both Boyd and Hart end up dying because they refuse to eat human flesh, Hart after becoming infected with the Wendigo's curse and Boyd after killing Ives but being mortally wounded in the process.
  • From Bad to Worse: Colqhoun's story is that of a travelling party that was facing harsher and harsher obstacles until they ended up stranded in a complete wilderness with steadily dwindling supplies... and somehow it still got downhill from that. It is neatly tied with the music in the background, first cheery and optimistic, then hitting more and more of the bass on the cello and ultimately being pretty gloomy.
  • Genre-Busting: Though often compared to Exploitation Films like Cannibal Holocaust, the film has a lot of subtle navel-gazing amidst the rivers of blood and Gorn. Specifically, it hybridizes cannibalism with vampirism; cannibals are not depicted as diseased savages, but as healthy and refined. In turn, their feasts are not oddly sensual "necking" sessions, but brutally butchered human beings who are seen walking and talking when the cannibal decided they were food.
    Roger Ebert: "Ravenous" is clever in the way it avoids most of the cliches of the vampire movie by using cannibalism, and most of the cliches of the cannibal movie by using vampirism.
  • Graceful Loser: Ives is surprisingly graceful and complimentary when he realizes that Boyd has lured him into a fatal trap.
    That was... really... sneaky.
  • Great Offscreen War: And a war that rarely shows up in fiction.
  • Healing Factor: One effect of becoming a Wendigo is a powerful healing factor that will heal major wounds so cleanly they won't even leave a scar, but it comes with the side effect of Horror Hunger.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Colonel Hart, starts out as a mentorly Knight in Sour Armor but turns cannibal when Ives brings him back from the dead before having a change of heart and asking Boyd to Mercy Kill him.
  • Hemo Erotic: Ives has a thing for blood, and doesn't mind it being splashed all over him (including his face) at all.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Referenced in the quote at the beginning of the movie. Relevant to Boyd, who has to become a monster to have a chance to defeat Ives.
  • Horror Hunger: The desire for more human meat is extremely strong in those who partake in cannibalism, to the point of being The Corruption and making them willing to viciously murder and abandon morality due to the craving.
    Colqhoun: (talking about eating the first person to die from the pioneers) I ate sparingly. Others did not. The meat did not last us a week. We were soon hungry again, only this time our hunger was different. More... severe. Savage.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: This is probably the only movie ever made where the protagonist fantasizes about eating David Arquette.
  • Inspired by…: The story of Colqhoun's party is loosely inspired by the real-life case of prospector and alleged cannibal Alferd Packer.
  • It's All About Me: Sacrifice and embracing death are major themes of the movie, with Boyd becoming a "hero" by playing dead instead of fighting and then spending rest of the story living under the heavy burden created by this event. What makes Ives so evil is how callously he's willing to kill other people for his own benefit. When dying of tuberculosis, he killed and ate a person who told him about the Wendigo myth, just to try to prevent his own death, on the off chance it would work. He then lured an entire wagon train to the middle of nowhere where he slaughtered and ate all of them, too, just to experiment further with cannibalism while traveling to the Fort for his own plans.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Colqhoun and Ives according to Robert Carlyle. Apparently his behavior in front of the cave was his transforming from one to the other. We never really find out for sure what his real name is.
  • Join or Die: Ives gives Boyd such an option in the end, first fatally stabbing him. Boyd now faces a Sadistic Choice: stick to his moral code and perish from the painful gut wound or eat the stew made out of Knox, with the bowl full of it right in front of him, with the implication that the resulting Horror Hunger will simply keep him in check. He eventually starts to chew on the stew, showing once more what a coward he is.
  • Just Between You and Me: Ives lays out his larger plot to Boyd in this manner. When the two are alone, Ives lays out his plan to create a small but well-connected group of cannibals who can ambush small groups of pioneers passing through Fort Spencer and cover it up effectively..
  • Lack of Empathy: During Colquhoun’s tale of how Colonel Ives killed and ate the rest of their party, Reich is the only one not horrified (until he later sees the bodies, that is). Later, he coldly dismisses Boyd’s concern for the mortally wounded Hart. The only person he does show empathy for is his Morality Pet Toffler.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Well, not exactly fight, but Ives does give Toffler a sporting chance, telling him to run instead of simply killing him as Toffler stood there whimpering in shock. It's combined with heavy Mood Whiplash due to the fast banjo flick playing in the background.
  • Lured into a Trap
    • Colqhoun leads the party from Fort Spencer out into the wilderness and away from help, right to ground he knows and where he can get an advantage on them, complete with hidden weapons and traps.
    • Boyd does this to Ives at the end of the movie. Boyd is weakening from his fight with Ives, so he sets up a bear trap, lures Ives to the location by pretending to be weaker than he is, and when Ives comes to finish him off, Boyd wrestles Ives into the trap and springs it on both of them to make sure Ives will have no chance to escape.
  • Mad Eye: Every time Ives is about to do something even more grotesque than normal, one eye half-closes and the other eye gets wider. When he's sane (or acting sane), they're both perfectly normal.
  • Magical Native American: Mostly averted. George and Martha do tell the cast about the Windigo Myth, but the rest of the time spend time either caring for the horses and doing other chores (Martha) or getting stoned (George).
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The film never provides a definitive conclusion on whether eating human flesh literally causes the consumer to be supernaturally possessed by an insatiable hunger for more human meat in exchange for great strength and durability or if human flesh is merely some kind of hyper-addictive panacea and Ives' morals are so corroded that he doesn't care about human life in order to get his fix. Since Cannibalism in the film is meant to be a metaphor for multiple different things, the open-endedness of exactly how it works leaves room for both the imagination and interpretation.
  • Meaningful Background Event: In-universe, the film takes place right when Californian Gold Rush is about to start. While nobody in Fort Spencer knows about it yet, including Ives, this would provide a steady influx of random pioneers going through the fort.
  • Meaningful Name: Reich is a blonde muscular fighter who seems the only proper soldier in the fort.
  • Medal of Dishonor: Boyd gets one just before he gets Reassigned to Antarctica; everyone knows that his victory was due to him Playing Possum (and furthermore, that him playing dead was not a piece of cunning strategy but a cowardly attempt to save his own life, even if it meant letting all the soldiers under his command die), and they really don't want him around.
    Col. Hart: What'd you get the medal for?
    Boyd: ...Cowardice.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Colonel Hart decides to try a rescue the moment Colqhoun reveals that the last people left from the party are a woman and Colonel Ives, who it seems will inevitably murder her. Nobody voices any objections, and both Reich and Boyd are later more upset about her death than those of all the other pioneers. Their reaction is justified, since the entire trek was to rescue her. By the end of the film, the only inhabitant of Fort Spencer left alive is Martha. She wisely packs her things and just walks away.
  • Mildly Military: The guys at Fort Spencer spend most of their time just kind of hanging out, eating, or getting stoned. Granted, there's not much better to do in the middle of nowhere while also being a skeleton crew, but still.
  • Mood Dissonance: Blood, murder, freezing weather, ambiguous moral decisions, character flaws, and... stoners. Comedy, drug humor, everybody here was Reassigned to Antarctica... but the emotional impact is unhindered.
  • Mood Whiplash: We have The Reveal, wherein Reich and Boyd find a cave full of bloody skeletons, "Reverend Colqhoun" turns out to be the Big Bad Ives, two guys die brutally (Col. Hart is stabbed and gets tomahawked in the spine, George is shot)... and it's immediately followed by Ives chasing Toffler around to silly harmonica and banjo music.
  • Morality Pet: Toffler is the only person Reich, otherwise a Sociopathic Soldier, cares about, to the point of Ho Yay.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Boyd, played by Guy Pearce. Also, the extremely muscular Reich gets a number of shirtless scenes because... well, just because.
  • Naturalized Name: Implied to be the case with George and Martha, especially since George, at least, doesn't seem to speak any English. Notably, they share their first names with George and Martha Washington, echoing the movie's themes of the atrocity of Manifest Destiny - their native names have been lost and American identities have been clumsily grafted onto them.
  • Neck Snap: Boyd kills a Mexican officer at the beginning this way.
  • New Meat: Boyd starts out like this, but unfortunately doesn't get any better once he goes into battle, resulting in his cowardly acts during battle and his subsequent reassignment.
  • No Escape but Down: When Boyd is cornered by Ives/Colqhoun at the cliff's top. He jumps, without any landing spot. He survives, but his leg is badly broken. It's one of the film's more memorable scenes.
  • Non-Action Guy: Despite being an Army fort, Fort Spencer has far more of these than it does capable soldiers. Reich is a genuine fighter, Martha is tough in her own way, and on the few occasions when Knox and George aren't either drinking or smoking themselves silly they'll at at least try, but everyone else in the fort is a coward, a bumbler, or a misfit.
  • Not Quite Dead: Reich is somehow still alive after taking a knife to the chest and falling off a cliff, and in his dying confusion he makes one last attempt to fight... apparently unaware that he's trying to choke Boyd rather than the guy who actually wounded him.
  • Over Drawn At The Blood Bank: The final fight was so over-the-top the production ran out of fake blood.
  • Peekaboo Corpse: Visible to the audience before the characters notice them, which makes the shock feel a bit less cheap. And there's a whole cave full! Wait a minute... One, two, three, four, five corpses with the meat stripped off... Oh, Crap!! There were six pioneers! Colqhoun is the cannibal!
  • Pop-Star Composer: Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame joins Michael Nyman in scoring the movie.
  • Power at a Price: The in-universe Cannibalism Superpower are pretty awesome, offering Healing Factor, Nigh-Invulnerability, Super-Strength... but at the price of Horror Hunger. One that can be never sated or stopped. Ever. From the perspective of the Native American George, who explains the Wendigo myth, this is obviously a curse. But for someone already one step in the grave, what is to kill another man and feast on his flesh?
  • "Psycho" Strings: This music can be heard in the scene of the cliffside fight.
  • The Quiet One: Unlike her brother George, Martha can speak some English, but she generally chooses not to. Hart discusses this when he first meets Boyd, and bets that Boyd didn't get a word out of Martha when she escorted him to Fort Spencer. The only time she says more than two or three words at once is when Boyd asks her how to make the Wendigo's Horror Hunger stop.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The occupants of Fort Spencer. Colonel Hart is an absentminded intellectual Non-Action Guy, Knox is a drunk who nobody trusts to treat them despite being the closest thing to a proper doctor at the fort, Boyd is a Dirty Coward who let men under his command die while trying to save his own skin, Toffler has some sort of behavioral disorder that sometimes makes him engage in odd behaviors like going mute while hopping up and down when he's too excited to speak, Cleaves and George are stoners, and Reich is a tough but rage filled soldier who threatens to kill people, including his fellow soldiers, at the drop of a hat when he's upset with them. Contrary to the trope's general use, they don't really do so well.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The basis for every lead character except the villain. Possibly related to the nature of Western expansion, which likely attracted those who wished to leave, or was a convenient place to kick out the misfits that you didn't want around.
  • Reassignment Backfire: Subverted. Boyd is sent to Fort Spencer as a punishment for his cowardice, but, despite the fact that he gets better, pretty much everyone dies anyway.
  • The Reveal: A number of these start coming around the midway point of the movie.
    • Colqhoun is the one who killed and ate the rest of the pioneer party.
    • The myth of the Wendigo is at least partially true, as eating other humans grants superhuman strength, toughness, and healing abilities. It also creates an obsessive Horror Hunger in those who partake in cannibalism.
    • Boyd's sole brave deed in the war and the unusual strength he showed doing it? A result of getting a small portion of the Wendigo super abilities when he swallowed the blood of the dead officers that were stacked on top of him.
    • Colqhoun and Ives are one and the same, and Ives is planning to use his connections within the Army to become the new commander of Fort Spencer, after which he'll be free to prey on pioneers passing through the fort en route to California.
    • Colonel Hart didn't die at the cave, he was forcibly converted to cannibalism instead.
  • Rule of Symbolism: General Slauson arriving at the fort and trying the Stew a la Major Knox. Ives may be gone, but cannibalism, IE: Manifest Destiny, lives on.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: The film mixes the mutually exclusive wendigo myth with beliefs about cannibalism that come from equatorial Africa. To elaborate: the wendigo story is an American First-Nations myth told to discourage cannibalism.note  The belief that eating someone will allow you to gain the victim's strength and vitality is an African myth told to encourage it. Notably, both George and Martha, the only native characters in-universe, follow the "proper" interpretation of the wendigo myth, and consider the prospect that someone would willingly succumb to such a curse with horror.
  • Screaming Warrior: Private Reich, even in the first second you ever see him.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Martha, at the end of the film. When she comes back and finds Boyd and Ives together in the bear trap, she immediately leaves the fort. Given she's the last survivor of the fort's inhabitants and a lot of weird things happened; she would end up questioned. And telling a story about a mythical monster while being native and a woman is definitely not going to do her any favours.
  • Settling the Frontier: A very important element of the background is the influx of pioneers to settle down in lands freshly captured from Mexico. Manifest Destiny is also brought up and discussed.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The movie is, on occasion, oppressively realistic in its portrayal of its mountainous, unpleasant terrain, and the military of its time.
    • It's with a touch of Real Life Writes the Plot - there were serious problems with weather during production. The constant dissonance between heavy snow, thaw, and relatively high temperatures around Fort Spencer? It's all Throw It In!.
  • Sinister Minister: When Colqhoun introduces himself, he notes that he's "a servant of God", and his mode of dress suggests he's some kind of missionary. He's also a murderer and cannibal.
  • Snow Means Death: Sure, the trek into the mountains is dangerous, but it's really the cannibals you need to watch out for.
  • Snowed-In:
    • Colqhoun's party got stuck in the middle of a complete wilderness, with dwindling supplies. Ives deliberately took them there and used the fact that they had no means to escape to slaughter and eat the whole group.
    • While not completely cut off, the snow in the mountain passes does affect the traffic in Fort Spencer, resulting in only a skeleton crew being kept there for maintenance. This is vital for Ives takeover, as he has only a few people to deal with and an easier time gaining "allies" throughout the winter, planning to be the master of the whole place by springtime.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The scene of Ives being found out, and the subsequent chase scene is accompanied by upbeat banjo music. When the chase comes to a pause, so too does the music, only to pick right back up after a scream in the distance.
  • Southern Gentleman: Major Knox has a very thick southern accent and is an officer.
  • Splatter Horror: Many of the film's gore and themes surround the comparison of human meat and animal meat, and a shot of a raw steak is offered the same loving attention as a shot of a slaughtered human body. Then again, since most of the crew are vegetarians, the honest disgust that frames meat of both types helps to enhance the story's horror nicely.
  • The Stoner: "The over-medicated Private Cleaves", as Colonel Hart describes him. George, the native guide/scout, is also one.
  • Suicidal "Gotcha!": Messy, and without the common convenient landing spot. Boyd actually jumps off a cliff, falls down through tree limbs and into a Pit Trap, breaking the ever-loving crap out of his leg in the process. Also, the end of the movie, where Boyd lures Ives into a bear trap, which kills them both.
  • Taking You with Me: With Ives seemingly getting the better of their fight, Boyd comes to the conclusion that this is the only way to stop him.
  • Teach Him Anger: Ives to Boyd, although it's less about anger and more about power and health that come from being a cannibal. Which ends in a very bloody Pygmalion Snapback.
  • Theme Naming: George and Martha, the two Native caretakers of Fort Spencer, share their respective first names with Mr. and Mrs. Washington. Given the movie's setting, it's likely that these aren't their real names, but simply ones they use when dealing with white settlers, so it seems likely they were aware of this when they picked those names.
  • The Savage Indian / Cannibal Tribe: Deconstructed and inverted. When George, a Native American man, tells Colonel Hart about the myth of the wendigo and the scattered instances of cannibalism among some Native cultures, the Colonel's reply is a concerned and paternalistic "People don't still do that, do they?" George replies that the white man eats the flesh of Jesus every Sunday. A later speech by Colonel Ives identifies American expansionism and colonialism as a metaphorical act of mass cannibalism, with Native people placed as the victims. And, of course, every literal act of cannibalism in the film is committed by a white person. George is one of the first victims.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Boyd spends the entire film as the designated wimp (even admitting that he won his medal for cowardice), until the last 3 scenes when he decides to fight Ives, using all of his new cannibal superpowers.
    • In the backstory, Ives, who went from a tubercular, suicidal mess to a Diabolical Mastermind Made of Iron.
    • And Col. Hart, who, in his first scene, cracks walnut shells under a giant book, but in a later scene, is able to crush them with his bare hands. All through the magic of cannibalism.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: One of the biggest offenders of '99. Even before the narrator starts to comment on the film, we already see Robert Carlyle's character as an inhabitant of Fort Spencer. Then half way through we also learn that Jeffrey Jones' character is a cannibal, Major Knox is killed and turned into a stew and Guy Pearce will fight to death with Robert Carlyle. And just to add insult to the injury, Robert Carlyle is shown in his Colqhoun persona, pointing a gun at Jeremy Davies. The trailer spoiled every single twist aside from the final scene.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: Boyd at the beginning of the movie. He, however, doesn't exactly fight his way out.
  • Unreliable Expositor: Which part of Colqhoun's story was a fabrication and which was truth? We know that Ives ate some people and that he lived in that cave. But what about all the details? Especially since some of them don't stick together.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Mr. Janus from Virginia traveled with his black "servant" Jones. The action takes place in the winter in early 1848, making it more likely for Jones to be simply a slave.
  • Villain Respect: When Boyd faces off in the final battle against Ives, he lures him into a bear trap and sets it off. With the two pinned together and dying, Ives compliments him on his really sneaky plan.
  • Violent Glaswegian: Downplayed. Colqhoun speaks with Robert Carlyle's natural Glasgow accent, and does some very violent things, but he doesn't really fit into the drunken, ignorant lout archetype this trope implies.
  • Weird West: Kind of. It's a supernatural horror story about westward expansion in the 1840s, but it eschews the deserts and plains that normally go with this trope, with a landscape dominated by the snow and rocks of mountain country.
  • Wendigo: Referenced, but nobody turns into a literal monster. Human flesh acts like an addictive Super Serum, and that's about it. George specifically names the wendigo as an Ojibwe story, which Colonel Hart translates as "from the North", which is broadly accurate. note 
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): Reich is the most capable and motivated soldier of the entire garrison. Naturally Ives kills him easily with a thrown dagger and a convenient cliff for him to fall off.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Ives. He had nothing against killing and eating Mrs MacCready, and a quick line towards the end suggests he was planning to do the same to Martha after she had outlived her usefulness and brought General Slauson to the fort.