JUNE 20, 2010
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (LA FILM FESTIVAL)
Every now and then I sort of dare myself and put my streak at risk by going to see a movie late at night (but not midnight, which would be the next day), with the added “danger” of it not being available anywhere else. As any regular HMAD reader knows, I often fall asleep in theaters, and 10 o’clock on a Sunday night is practically a guarantee of “Oh shit I just slept through the entire middle of the movie”, which means I couldn’t write a review nor would I have time to watch something else. Luckily, a mix of coffee, Simon being “on guard”, and a genuinely good movie allowed me to see 99.999% of Bitter Feast (I began to doze at one point but Simon smacked my arm, and when I 'awoke' it was still the same shot, so I couldn’t have missed more than 6-7 seconds).
It might also be due to the fact that the movie tackles something I sometimes fear: a critic being tortured by someone he panned. But in this case it’s food, which allows for more interesting scenarios. After chaining the critic (a terrific Josh Leonard) up, the scorned chef (James LeGros) presents him with a few “tests” - he makes Leonard - hands bound together and chained to a wall - prepare a specific dish that he had panned (not necessarily one of LeGros’). If it’s satisfactory, he can eat. If not, he goes without food another day. Thus you have the first movie in which we have a nail-biting sequence revolving around whether or not someone can prepare an over easy egg.
It’s the strength of these scenes (and the actors) that makes the final third of the film such a letdown. The film’s power stemmed from seeing two fairly unlikable men engage in a battle where you weren’t sure which one to root for. Leonard is technically the victim - he’s the one that was kidnapped and is getting tortured, but he’s also a cold, angry man who tears down others for his own enjoyment, whereas LeGros, prior to snapping, is simply an arrogant ass, not unlike a lot of folks. And over the course of the film you find out about individual tragedies that shaped who they are and caused them to be this way. So you’re thinking that writer/director Joe Maggio is leading toward the two men sort of seeing eye to eye (but with a tragic ending), but then suddenly a third character enters the fray, and it becomes a generic chase film, with LeGros stalking Leonard and the other character (I won’t spoil, though it’s not hard to guess if you’re watching the movie), with no irony or even dialogue accompanying it. It’d be like if with 25 minutes left in Misery, some buddy of Paul's that we saw once before showed up and became the main character of the film. It’s a really awkward shift, and the movie loses its original edge.
In the post film Q&A we learned that the original script was far less horror-centric, so perhaps that is why it changed (they didn’t get too specific and being after midnight, I didn’t feel like asking a potentially long-winded question). Perhaps it was always supposed to focus on the battle between the two men, but in making it more of a horror film they sort of lost that angle. It’s not a total failure - there is no feeling anyone is “safe”, and Maggio has a knack for fake-fake scares (i.e. someone opens a bathroom mirror and then shuts it, but the killer is NOT suddenly behind them as expected), but perhaps a more thorough threading of the “outright horror” elements into the script would have been preferable to just sort of shoehorning them into the 3rd act.
These changes apparently came at the request of executive producer/co-star Larry Fessenden, but silver lining - he also brought in frequent Glass Eye Pix composer Jeff Grace. As always, his score is amazing, and I’m pretty sure a CD with all of his themes would never leave my player. Perhaps he should have employed GEP regular Glenn McQuaid to edit the film however, instead of Maggio’s usual guy. It’s a bit long, and certain scenes could have been tightened (or even excised, since certain plot elements never really pay off, such as LeGros taking the time to write the number on each of his padlocks and its corresponding key - the keys are never even really shown again).
So we have a horror film that’s biggest problem is that it’s a horror film. Had they toned down some of the typical stuff and kept the focus on character right up to the end, I think that Bitter Feast could have easily been one of the year’s best thrillers. Instead it’s an uneven, but still good movie. And it’s also one of those films that I hope the likes of Mike Feifer or anyone involved with Kinky Killers never see and thus get some ideas (Leonard’s character even goes by his initials!). Now I live in fear of someone forcing me to direct a good movie while being chained up. Or just tying me up and smacking me around with a frying pan. Either or.
What say you?