Thursday, January 04, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Feast (2005)

All I can tell you is, they don't make 'em like they used to...

As a horror aficionado, I fondly remember the 1980s as the era of the slasher film, but also as the span in which the cheesy horror comedy reached its inarguable pinnacle. You remember the kind of movie I'm talking about here, don't you?

Evil Dead 2, Fright Night, Return of the Living Dead, The Lost Boys.

These were great (or in some cases, very good...) genre pictures that were able to scare viewers and make us laugh at the same time. These were films that - although funny and deliberately campy in spots - didn't sacrifice internal consistency for easy yuks. Go back and look at Return of the Living Dead for instance. The joke "send more paramedics" is earned, logically consistent, and damn funny. It also sets up a scary mauling...

Which brings me to a film I desperately wanted to like. John Gulager's Feast. If you watched Project Greenlight's third season on Bravo, you'll remember the director and the film. Gulager is a clunky, awkward guy who faced a gaggle of producers that questioned his vision and basically wouldn't let him make the movie his way. At the time, I completely supported him, because without his vision, the movie would have just been more dross like Underworld. The producers wanted to hem in his off-the-wall vision, which made his selection as director moot. Why choose a guy for his unique sensibility and then try to mainstream that very sensibility? (Answer: the almighty dollar.)

I don't know whose vision prevailed, John Gulager's or the producers', but I can say without reservation that Project Greenlight's third season was much more interesting than Feast, a failure on virtually every level imaginable.

Not that Gulager can't arrange shots or put up a nice composition now and again. The problem with Feast lays squarely with the utterly rotten script. This is clearly where the enterprise fell apart. The wrong script was selected. You can tell you're in trouble early on in the film, when the audience is introduced to the one-note characters with freeze-frames accompanied by "clever" on-screen factoids about them. These include "fun facts" and a "life expectancy" descriptor. For instance, Jason Mewes appears in the film as himself (!), and his life expectancy meter reads "already surpassed expectations."

These so-called fun facts are poorly worded, and too cutesy by half, and that's the problem with the script overall. The writers desperately believe they are edgy and hip and Tarantino-esque, but the movie isn't clever or even - on a rudimentary level - competent.

In fact, Feast is a winking, tongue-in-cheek, dopey pastiche of far better horror movies. For instance, we get the trademark Sam Raimi "blood flood" in one scene. Another sequence is a variation on the old "hammer and nails" montage, a staple of the siege genre that we associate with George Romero in which characters desperately hold up in a remote location and barricade themselves in. Then we get a comedic character named "Beer Guy" who is slowly but surely decaying...a kind of allusion to a character in An American Werewolf in London (1981).

Homage, you say? Beg to differ. Sloppy seconds.

Feast involves a host of poorly-fleshed out characters: Bozo, Harley Mom, Hot Wheels, Coach, Grand Ma, Beer Guy, Bartender, Tuffy, Honey Pie, Cody, Hero, Heroine, Vet, Bossman and Jason Mewes - fighting a desperate life-and-death battle in an out-of-the way hole-in-the-wall called The Bear Tavern. Their nemesis is a family of wild and woolly monsters so poorly visualized that they can only be shown in quick cuts and with fast motion photography.

The script is so impressed with itself that - get this - it introduces a character as "Hero" and provides him a grand speech as he enters the Tavern. He bursts in - bloody but unbowed - looking like Ash from Evil Dead II. He rouses the troops...and then promptly dies, mangled and murdered (and decapitated) by the monsters. The script wants this death to play as unexpected, surprising and funny. Instead, it's obvious and pre-ordained. It's called the Janet Leigh Psycho trick, and it's one that's been played out a million times in horror movies. Feast, apparently, believes this is a new twist. Like we don't remember that Captain Dallas died in Alien (1979). Or that Donovan Leitch died in The Blob (1988). No, this twist is treated like a major revelation and inspires...dead, crushing silence.

Another element that derails Feast so quickly is the film's total lack of internal consistency. For instance, a pint-sized monster breaks into the bar and begins to furiously hump a mounted deer head (you read that right...). It is then killed by the denizens inside. But later they learn, it's actually the "baby" of the clan. A baby that can have sex? I might accept that trait if the movie attempted to chart in some fashion (like Alien, Aliens...) the life cycle of the creature. Is it born an adult with reproductive capacity? But the movie is too "cool" for an explanation of any type. It's one of those films where there's no motivation for anything that happens on screen, because that's the hip thing to do. This means that anything can and does happen, and we're left to just think "huh?" "What?" "Why?"

The same lack of internal consistency occurs in the sequence in which Beer Guy is doused with the monster's green bile. In the very next scene, he is covered in maggots...though no maggots were visible during the actual "flood." It's spontaneous creation...the maggots miraculously appeared there. Again, I might let that one go, but then Beer Guy starts to disintegrate from his exposure to the green bile. Yet in the film's finale, Tuffy defeats a monster by choking it with her arm (a scene that looked inspired by the finale of Just Before Dawn, if you ask me...). She retracted her arm and it was covered in bile and goop too...just like Beer Guy.

But she doesn't disintegrate. Why? Either the bile is poisonous and toxic to humans or it isn't. In attempting to be unpredictable and edgy, Feast refuses to make a lick of sense. Even a movie that is "having fun" needs to determine such basic factors as the quality of the creature's blood/bile. Poisonous or not, but pick one. But Feast is schizophrenic...pandering. It wants to remind us of "greater" horror films as an apparent homage, but insults the very audience that would recognize those moments as such.

Now, apologists may claim that Feast is simply what Stephen King would call a "moron movie." My response: let's educate the morons. Even morons have a right to films with stories that make sense. Feast remains, as Mystery Science Theater 3000 would term it, "Short Attention Span Theater." Forget anything that happened in the movie a minute ago...and just look at the pretty pictures that are happening now, okay?

I forgive the fact that Feast is incoherently cut. I forgive the fact that so much of the film is shot in herky-jerky, fast-motion style that you can't tell what's happening most of the time, and thus get no sense of the bar's geography. Why can I let these elements go? Well, disorientation can often work well in a horror film, and this is a low-budget movie, after all. I like low budget films, especially ones that challenge me or boast a go-for-the-throat zeal. I don't need expensive production values if I have characters I care about, a good script, and an interesting central scenario.

Well, taking these one at a time: there are no characters you can care about here. Tuffy, the ostensible lead, loses her son in an early scene. And yeah, that's supposed to a surprise too...killing the kid. Only The Blob remake already did that too. We're supposed to care about the boy's death, but there are no scenes that establish the relationship between Tuffy and Cody. No scenes that establish the bond. So when the death comes, it means nothing. And it's positioned awkwardly between jokes and gags. Kathryn watched the movie with me and she observed - rightly - I don't think you can go for laughs in one instant, and then try for tragedy the next. It doesn't fit together.

The other characters are - in totality - the sum total of their score cards. Less well-rounded than your typical Jason victim in a Friday the 13th sequel. And sorry - the acting is terrible, especially by Henry Rollins, playing a Tony Robbins-type motivational speaker.

Lastly, the central scenario could be from Near Dark (since there's a scene in the Bigelow picture about an attack on a bar), Night of the Living Dead, Tremors or Evil Dead. Feast contributes nothing to the siege sub-genre, so even the set-up fails to tantalize. I wanted to love Feast. I wanted to be introduced to the next Sam Raimi - a guy with vision and bronze balls who could take a simple story (like demons attacking a cabin in the woods) and turn it into a "grueling" experience in style and gore. I wanted him to transcend the "scenario" and make a movie I couldn't forget.

That doesn't happen here. And again, I primarily blame the script. It wants to wink and nudge at us throughout, and then have us take seriously the threat and the pathos. Which...doesn't work. In the slightest.

I forgot who said it, but someone wise once noted that "when the tongue is in the cheek," it is "impossible" to speak in anything but a garbled fashion.

That should be Feast's epitaph. If the movie is too cool to give me an internally consistent narrative, I'm too cool to give it a good review. In fact, let put this in a way that Feast's "intended" audience would understand. This movie sucks (severed...) monster dorks.

1 comment:

  1. joey_bishop_jr11:19 AM

    I can't claim this next thought as an original idea (I read it somewhere in another online review) but it's true: I, at least, have to love and respect an escape plan based on Donkey Kong.