This movie starts and ends faster than anything I have seen in a while. This means two things: 1. it has a breathtaking pace, and 2. it is pretty short, which, in this case, is not so much a flaw as it is a shame. It simply runs out of gas because it spends the whole time in overdrive. Feast, John Gulager’s debut film as a director, is clearly inspired by The Evil Dead (which, remember, also has a short runtime) and is surprisingly worthy of the comparison. It is more than just a copycat, however, and that fusion of the proven and the new is what makes this film work.
There is a scene near the beginning of Feast that is somewhat representative of the whole. A buxom blonde partially undresses and begins rinsing herself in a sink so as to wash off some of the blood in which she has been totally drenched. The camera accusingly switches to two male characters who are gawking intently and shamelessly. Then she notices them herself. We empathize with her as she ineffectively walks behind a sort of transparent curtain to change, still being watched. It is then, though, that we realize we are just as guilty of gawking as the males on screen. It is perhaps the chief irony of a movie filled with as much irony as blood, whether it’s as shocking as the sudden death of someone who was meant to live or as subtle as someone smoking in front of a no-smoking sign, and that is what makes this something more than a gross-out monster flick.
The gore is still there, though, and it is pretty extreme. It begins immediately once the players are introduced, and it never seems to let up. This is where the Evil Dead influence is most obvious—only the first Evil Dead, though. You might laugh but only because of the film’s sheer audacity to constantly outdo itself, a task made especially difficult considering that the bar is set so high from the first time we see the monsters. In this first encounter alone, the blood, killing, and maiming is so profuse that it becomes dizzying. A face is literally sliced off in one stroke, entire bodies are eaten, an eyeball is slowly pulled out of its socket, and one unlucky character begins rotting alive after being puked on. Things only get grosser as the plot progresses. The monsters themselves are actually pretty scary-looking, too. And when the young one occasionally humps whatever apparently seems like a suitable mate, it actually manages to disturb rather than amuse.
This entire movie takes place in a bar in the desert. Every person in the bar has a fairly equal role in the film, and instead of spending time on character development, the camera merely sweeps through the bar, freeze-framing everyone with superimposed text giving us names, descriptions, and even how long we can expect them to live (one of them is allotted an actual amount of time). Don’t believe everything you are told, though, because sometimes we are lied to. There is even one character that gets a second, revised freeze-frame near the end. Some of the characters are taken right out of horror stock, and others further exhibit the film’s knack for irony, like the hard-ass cowboy grandpa who wears one dangly earring and speaks hip-hop slang. Oh, and Henry Rollins plays a motivational speaker—one who eventually has to don pink sweatpants. The number of characters we start off with is unusually large, but it doesn’t stay that way for long.
Even the characters’ deaths have certain ironies to them. Some are shoo-ins for survival, but they turn up dead anyway. There are others we expect will probably die and in certain ways. These characters will either survive or be killed in ways we never expected. You can never relax during this movie because you are shown that anything can happen at any time.
Another similarity between this film and The Evil Dead is that in reading a description of them, they might seem like comedies even though they definitely are not. Feast has quite a few scenes that are genuinely morally startling, and even the most innocent characters will be ripped from others’ arms. This works to create a true sense of horror. If these things did not happen, we would have no real reason to fear, but they do happen, and we are scared.
The cinematography is also fantastic. We are wisely allowed only glimpses of the monsters for most of the movie because glimpses are all that the characters themselves are able to catch. Some of the action is literally sped up, too, racing us through the film even faster. Some might consider this a flaw, disallowing us adequate time to take it all in, but it works surprisingly well. It evokes the same frenetic state that the characters are in. At other times, camera angles work to accomplish the same level of irony found in the film’s other aspects. It will set us up to be sure of a certain action, but then it won’t fire.
One could learn a lot about movies by watching Feast. When we expect one thing to happen, and something else blindsides us the next instant, we realize what most movies do with certain types of characters, camera angles, and situations. This film breaks a lot of rules, but it doesn’t do so to childishly show us that it doesn’t have to follow them; it breaks them because sometimes breaking the rules can be fun, even rewarding. There is no real “point” that this film is trying to make. It is simply trying to be the best movie that it can be. And hey, any film that features a bear-trap as a serious hand-to-hand weapon is fine by me.