Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce), who is sent to Fort Spencer, a two-bit frontier establishment at the base of inhospitable mountains.
Fort Spencer is home to eight soldiers, including a drunkard, an idiot, two silent Indians and Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones).
Boyd has little time to adjust to the quirky ways of Fort Spencer before a straggler arrives at the hamlet with a tale to tell. Colquhoun (Robert Carlyle) relates the gory story of a wagon train which falls foul of the winter storms and holes up in a cave. Before long, the survivors are getting peckish.
Colonel Hart takes his oddball band up into the mountains to find the cave, which is where the real fun starts. Colquhoun isn't quite what he seems and while Boyd has moral misgivings about the cannibalism, Colquhoun just gets weirder and weirder and gradually assumes control of the party.
Despite the fact that both director Antonia Bird and Guy Pearce are vegetarians, this is an extremely gory movie, with knives and blood recurring throughout. However, all the bloody scenes are underpinned by a rich vein of dark humour. Carlyle in particular is fantastic. He starts off as the trembling, whimpering Colquhoun and gets better and better, with his chilling cackle and insane beckoning. Carlyle looks like he is enjoying himself; he has a real presence on screen and he makes every line work, from the narrative at the opening to the Straw Doggy ending.
Bird has worked with Carlyle before on Face and Priest and she knows how to get the best out of the versatile Scot. With Jeffrey Jones and Pearce on board, the film has three strong central presences and maintains interest and tension, not to mention blood, until the final, crackling dénouement. Added to this is resplendent cinematography and a soundtrack which haunts and teases. The pictures - filmed in Slovakia - come courtesy of Anthony B Richmond, the music from an unusual pairing of Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn