Before the new Ravenous, British director Antonia Bird's only American film was the 1995 Drew Barrymore/Chris O'Donnell flop Mad Love. But she's also made a number of acclaimed and occasionally controversial British films featuring Trainspotting and The Full Monty star Robert Carlyle: There's Face, Safe (not to be confused with the Todd Haynes film of the same name), and 1994's Priest, which is loved and reviled in equal measure. Ravenous, also with Carlyle, will likely polarize viewers just as strongly, though for different reasons: A Donner Party-inspired black comedy that could be interpreted as celebrating or glorifying cannibalism, it's bleak, gory, violent, and occasionally stomach-turning. Bird recently spoke to The Onion about overreactions, camp, and Mad Love.
The Onion: It seems like half of Ravenous' audience is going to walk out in disgust, and the other half is going to put up web pages devoted to it.
Antonia Bird: I think you're right. [Laughs.]
O: How do you anticipate the reaction?
AB: I actually think that's exactly what's going to happen. I mean, the 50 percent of people who enjoy horror movies, or enjoy thriller-y, frightening things, are going to love it. And the 50 percent who don't find that entertaining are not going to find it entertaining, and I think that's reasonable. You know, lots of people don't want to go see a nice gentle love story. It's not interesting to them. Other people love that.
O: Do you think people will protest it because of the possibility that there will be copycats? People tend to overreact to things like this.
AB: Yeah, they do. I really don't think so. [Laughs.]
O: All right, hypothetical situation: Someone kills and eats someone and is arrested, and police find a Ravenous poster in their room. All of a sudden, controversy surrounds the film.
AB: You know what? I think that person is going to do something pretty horrific whether or not the film got made. I think people who are really that damaged are going to do something horrendous one way or another in their lives.
O: How did directing a movie about marauding cannibals differ from making Mad Love?
AB: Well, the main thing I learned from Mad Love was how the Hollywood studio system works. I went into Mad Love as a European naïve. I had no idea. We do things a very different way in Britain. I came into the big Hollywood system—nobody warned me what it was going to be like—and I kind of blundered my way through it. I had a great time working with Drew [Barrymore] and Chris [O'Donnell], but it was quite difficult, because I really didn't know what was happening. With this one, it was quite joyous, because I really did know what was happening. For a director, 80 percent of the movie has nothing to do with directing; it's all politics and post-production. And I know how to [deal with that] now. I know that you have to be very clear about what movie you want to make, and that it's an industry here. In Britain, it's not really an industry. It doesn't gain you as much respect in the business world. Making films here is fine, as long as you understand that; you're making something that has got to go out there and make money.
O: Mixing blood and guts with camp has been done before, in stuff like the Evil Dead movies, but rarely in a major studio setting, where you're trying to appeal to a large mainstream audience. Are you concerned with how people are going to respond?
AB: No, I'm proud enough of the film now that it's finished. We only finished it two days ago [Jan. 20], so it's all very fresh, and I'm proud of it. There's been a cult recently for teenage horror films in terms of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and I think that we in the industry undervalue the intelligence of the audience. I think they might really like it if they get a chance to see it, if they get interested enough in it.