I’m sure the majority of you Fellow Fans out there, like me, thoroughly enjoy a good, creepy, grounded-in-reality, dramatic and intense horror flick that gets your skin crawling. However, most of us also enjoy sitting down to some mindless, let’s-just-have-a-bloody-good-time horror flick every now and again; after all, where would we be without Shaun of the Dead? Can you imagine our genre without Ash and the Evil Dead series? How about Tremors? These films and many like them, while establishing characters and situations we can relate to, do so with a much more aloof and tongue-in-cheek attitude, showing us the comedic side of horrific situations without resorting to slapstick dumbassery (which also has its audience…I’m just not typically one of them). Independent horror filmmakers seem to get this “other” aspect of the horror genre more so than the big studios, with exceptions coming in few and far between (Zombieland, anyone?).
Thus, it’s no surprise that today’s selection was a film made through Project Greenlight with a modest budget of one million bucks some ten years ago; John Gulager’s bloody creature-feature, Feast.
In a ramshackle watering-hole somewhere in the badlands of Texas, the regular crowd is enjoying (or in some cases, enduring) a typical night. The local hotshot asshole is bullying people around the pool table, using his crippled brother to cheat the one decent-acting guy in the place…the pretty waitress looking for a way outta this ‘burg is hitting up the good-looking traveling man…the local beer-delivery guy regales everyone who’s not listening with tales of his exuberant youth…an old lady sits quietly at the bar with her memories, watching the leather clad biker chick who sits quietly and thoughtfully at the end, and the soldier who stopped in to wet his whistle carry on with the grizzled, amicable bartender…and all the while, the troubled other waitress wonders what indignities the rough-hewn and crude owner of the bar will visit upon her this night, trapped in a situation she hates in order to care for her young son who sits upstairs in the office, playing video games. Suddenly, a man with a gun bursts into the bar, covered in blood and carrying a gory trophy; the head of something that is definitely not human. Warning the assembled employees and patrons that there are more of these things headed their way, the typical night at the local beer joint becomes a desperate, bloody fight for survival against a decidedly determined and hungry pack of ungodly monsters…
The film comes outta the box as something different; it’s definitely a “slice-of-life” kinda story, with no set-up, background, or reason given for the events depicted; what is happening simply is. Character development is kick-started with freeze-frame moments over each individual as they are introduced; this is also a clue as to what kind of tongue-in-cheek, self-aware film you’re gonna be watching (for example, we’re given a comedic listing of the particular character’s personality, as well as a life expectancy). This isn’t done in an intrusive or detracting way; it comes off as more a Pulp Fiction-y kind of vibe, and Gulager does a good job of melding it in with the narrative. After this careful set up, however, the tale branches off in some quite unexpected directions; the clever and witty script effectively sets us up to knock us down, as one by one the tropes we’re expecting to see get blown to pieces. The game and able cast, including such favorites as Clu Gulager (director John Gulager’s father), Duane Whitaker, Balthazar Getty, Krista Allen, Henry Rollins, and Jason Mewes, each turn in performances that are obvious jabs at the typical horror staples, but only once or twice cross the line into outright caricature (Rollins as a motivational speaker with fidelity issues is a particular departure from expectation).
With such an ensemble cast, it’d take a page and a half to point out all the standout moments; suffice to say that each performer brought to the table exactly what was needed from their character, regardless of the size of the role. Gulager’s direction takes on a highly kinetic pace during intense moments (with some choppiness in the editing that’s a bit jarring, but contextually forgivable), and remains thoughtful and provocative during those less frantic times, keeping the largely one-room setting interesting with the creative use of depth-of-field and innovative angles, and maintaining the level of urgency and tension throughout.
A large chunk o’ the budget had to go to the effects; the “monsters” were pretty damned gruesome and convincing, played out with a savage atavism, yet a sinister intelligence indicative of a sentient purpose. Gore-hounds, take heart; you want blood, you got it with this one. The red stuff flows freely and with reckless abandon, with maggots, severed limbs (including one particularly painful shot, even if it is the monster on the receiving end), stretched tendons, and virtual waves of blood filling the picture. A lot of what you’ll see is very visceral and unexpected (especially the cringe-worthy exploration of some of the monster’s sexual habits), all the while still keeping that background comic-booky feel.
Despite some issues, this flick is still an enjoyable watch; the misdirection of the storyline, leading down one path to smack ya in the face with something you weren’t looking for is a refreshing departure from the norm. The jump scares are there, the gore is there, and the comedic element is funny without really trying to be funny; the situational humor sufficiently grabs the giggles without devolving into outright stupidity.
Is Feast a groundbreaker that changes the face of the genre? Not particularly…at it’s core it’s still a formulaic “mixed bag o’ folks is trapped somewhere and being stalked by monsters” flick, but the different approach to the subject matter does make it stand out. Personally, I really like this flick. Every time I sit down to it, I find myself having a lot of fun; you don’t have to think too much, and the clever script and horrific action is a treat for we horror fans.
If that’s what you’re in the mood for, I’d definitely say give this one a shot.
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