Guy Pearce’s character, Lt James Boyd, is pathologically incapable of lying. So much so, that I spent a not insignificant portion of this movie screaming at my TV, for him to, “Just lie, Dammit!”
<Sigh> Let me start at the beginning.
Lt. James Boyd is honored with a medal for single-handedly defeating the Mexican Army, somewhere. But, since he is incapable of lying, he tells his superiors how he actually did it. It involves pretending to play dead, feeling renewed vigor after the blood of one of his officers gets in his mouth, then getting the drop on his captors. He is so appalled by this, that he decides to become a vegetarian.
So, he gets a medal but he also gets shipped off to the middle of no and where for his “unorthodox” methods and because his CO doesn’t want to set a bad precedent. See, if Boyd had simply lied about his motivation or method, he would not then have been shipped off to Fort Spencer for Rejects, and we would probably have no movie.
He gets shipped off to the Rockies where a skeleton staff, consisting of a drunken officer named Knox, (who never met a bottle he didn’t like); two native people, a brother and sister named, respectfully, George and Martha; a gung- ho Private named Reich (who he is advised to steer clear of); twitchy muttering priest named Tofler who likes to sing religious hymns; his bemused CO, Colonel Hart,who likes to kill walnuts with his books, after reading them in their original languages; and the permanently overmedicated Private Cleaves.
One harsh night a stranger stumbles into the Fort, frostbitten and exhausted. He tells a horrific story of cannibalism and that there may yet be survivors. Since their job at Fort Spencer is to offer aid and rescue to people traveling the Rockies, everyone except Martha and Cleaves, (who have left on a supply run,) spring into action. But not before George can explain to them, the myth of the Wendigo
And this is where it all goes horribly wrong. Which is saying something if you were paying attention to anything I stated earlier in this post.
It turns out the story is a ruse and that their rescued stranger is actually Colonel Ives. He’d killed and eaten the party he’d been traveling with, and now that he’s lured them all out, he intends another buffet.
Everyone dies except Boyd, who only survives by eating the body of the dead Private Reich. (Here’s the thing, if Boyd got sent to Fort Spencer for cowardice, which he insists on telling anyone who will listen, I don’t even want to know why Reich got sent there. In every respect, he appears to be the perfect soldier, except that he seems just a little too happy to be one.)
Boyd makes it back to Fort Spencer with an extraordinary story for his superiors, who beg him to retract it, but he insists. In fact, not only do they ask him to retract the story, they actually beg him to lie and even offer him a story with which to do it. I begged him to lie.This was the point where I began screaming at my TV.
Then to his surprise, in walks Colonel Ives which, of course, makes him seem like a liar. He has no luck convincing anyone that Ives is the killer and he and his story are dismissed.
Colonel Ives settles in and begins making plans. He thinks he’s got a good set up at Fort Spencer. He can eat all the people he needs, without fear of discovery, as long as a few key officers are in on it. When Boyd does not agree to go along with this, and Cleaves and the horses are killed, Ives has him locked away. He sends Martha out to gather up their COs, for a court martial, also known as “breakfast, lunch and reinforcements.”
It turns out that Colonel Hart is still alive after Knox is killed. At first, he’s kind of into the whole idea of being a cannibal, but after realizes that it would involve far too much killing to suit him, he asks Boyd to kill him. He does.Boyd then decides to have it out with Ives.
Just before the other officers can arrive, the two of them have a knockdown, drag out fight that involves collapsing buildings, fire, swords and a giant bear trap. In the end, its left up to the viewer, who will survive by eating who.
I have to confess, when I first heard about this movie, I had no idea it was supposed to be funny. The trailer gave me no real clue about it, other than it involved cannibalism, on the old frontier. At the time, I’d known the story of the Donner Party and I thought this movie might be a reenactment.
I watched this movie three times. The first time I was very mad as Hell because I just didn’t get it. Was I supposed to laugh? Was this supposed to be funny? Why were they making fun of such a serious topic? Why is the music so ridiculous? Or maybe it was just that I was much younger and of a more serious bent back then. I don’t know.
The second time I tried watching it with my Mom. I thought she’d like it because, hey! people being eaten!, but she hated it too. I don’t think she even remembers watching this because its been sitting on our DVR for about two months now, and she hasn’t said a word, other than to ask me when I was going to delete it.
The third time is the charm or maybe its just because I was older and better prepared. Or it could be that I was coming down from a nasty flu and was the most lucid I’d been in about 24 hours. It was on cable one night and I. Just. Got. It. I got every joke, every reference, including Martha and George’s names, Tofler’s religious hymns, and Ives’ snarky asides about eating people.
There’s no stinting on the gore, if that’s your bag. The humor is as dark as the subject matter but never at the character’s expense. It’s not so much you laughing at these people, so much as the characters are mordantly sardonic about their ridiculous situation. This is not a slapstick movie. The humor isn’t physical. None of them, with the exception of Cleaves, plays any of this for laughs, then again, he spends most of the film higher than a kite, so that’s his excuse.. Colonel Hart and Colonel Ives, especially, get some of the best lines in the movie.
There is one woman in this movie. A Native American woman (Martha) who manages, through a combination of canniness and luck, to survive to the end of the movie. She has maybe five to ten lines of dialogue in the whole movie and I sort of wondered why she was in it at all. George, her brother, gets even fewer lines and under the “Highlander Principle” of movie making, if you have more than one of any marginalized people, in a movie, “there can be only one”, by the end of it.
Boyd, played by one of my favorite actors, (Guy Pearce), actually shows a certain amount of bravery at the end in trying to take down Ives, but I’m not certain if its because he’s actually being brave or if its because he just ate Colonel Hart.
His fight with Ives is only slightly less destructive than Superman’s fight with Colonel Zod, in Man of Steel. Its directed by a woman, Antonia Frasier, and if you’ve never seen the movie, as soon as you’re done, watch it again with the commentary. Her remarks are interesting and enlightening as to what she was trying to accomplish and why.
And if you can get past some of the most ridiculous music ever put in a movie, you may put this on the shelf, along with the best of Sam Raimi’s films.
This has since become one of my all-time favorite horror movies, right up there with the remake of The Thing and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.The movie by which all other cannibal movies are compared and found wanting.