OCTOBER 1, 2015
Do you need to laugh out loud on the regular in order to consider a comedy successful? When I think of great horror-comedies, I remember laughing out loud pretty often at them, and can recall specific jokes that had me howling (Slither's "martians are from Mars" argument; Zombieland's "...Garfield.", etc), but I couldn't tell you any similar moments from Gravy and I just watched it. I know I definitely DID belly laugh a few times, but at what I can't recall - yet I know I had this smirk/grin thing on my face the entire time, and was even kind of charmed by it more often than not. So is it a win?
I know this much - it's got a pretty great cast for a movie about cannibals. There's pretty much only one location, a Mexican restaurant that is just about closed for the night (Halloween night, specifically) when a trio of cannibals show up, seal all the doors (there are no windows) and tie up the remaining staff, forcing them to play games in order to earn their way out of being eaten next. That could very easily be a straight, very dark/violent horror movie, but all you have to do is look at the cast and know that won't be the case. Michael Weston and Jimmi Simpson are both ace scene-stealers, and I've enjoyed seeing them pop up in a variety of things for years - so seeing them as the leads (and as brothers!) was a real delight. Both have a very particular on-screen persona and line delivery that is very much in tune with my own sensibilities, so again even though they weren't really earning any big guffaws I was happily watching them carry out their very laid-back plan.
Their victims are also a wonderfully eclectic group, including the great Paul Rodriguez as the owner and Gabourey Sidibe as the restaurant's security guard (why a little Mexican joint would need a security guard is beyond me but she was a delight so no arguments). Horror fans will be happy to discover Molly Ephraim from the Paranormal Activities (she's the daughter in PA2 that pops up to give exposition in The Marked Ones) has some pretty good comedic timing as the obligatory self-centered waitress, and it took 40 minutes before I finally recognized the heroine - she's Sutton Foster from Flight of the Conchords! If you've never watched that show, go to Youtube right now and watch the video for "If You're Into It" - it's how I was hooked (and she's in that particular sequence for an added bonus). Sarah Silverman also pops up in the movie's bookending scenes, so she doesn't get to join in on all the cannibal fun, but her character is wonderfully weird, on-screen for exactly as long as she can be and still be endearing instead of annoying.
The specifics also scream comedy instead of hardcore horror. The cannibals don't just show up and start eating people - they're foodies, and task the restaurant's chef with preparing the meat in a variety of exquisite dishes. And while they pit the employees against each other, it's not like some Saw shit where they give them a weapon and make them battle it out - instead they make them play the Kevin Bacon game (Oh wait, that was one of the things I laughed out loud at! Simpson says "It's a game *I* like to call Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" and someone points out that everyone calls it that). Irreverence is the order of the day here, but don't worry - they don't hold back when it comes to the red stuff. When _____ won't shut up the 3rd cannibal (Lily Cole) settles things by biting his/her throat and chewing out the vocal chords, spraying gallons of real fake blood all over the place. It doesn't kill the person, however (leading to a fun little moment where he/she tries to play the Bacon game), and later when they DO expire their body is placed in a tableau that's so macabre you half-expect Hugh Dancy and Laurence Fishburne to show up and investigate it.
Speaking of expectations, given the number of movie references and writer/director James Roday's self-confessed love of horror (he even did a Friday the 13th episode on his show Psych, information that would have been nice to know when he showed up in the first, lesser Friday the 13th documentary), not to mention the Halloween setting, I was afraid the movie would be wall-to-wall horror references, but there are almost none! Haddonfield is mentioned, and there might have been one or two others during the Kevin Bacon game parts, but otherwise the stuff they reference isn't genre-related, thankfully (and Haddonfield is the only name reference I can recall - the restaurant isn't named "Romero's" or anything obnoxious like that).
As it continues there are some minor twists; one of the employees is a killer himself, minor romances blossom, etc. It's a touch too long (and my appreciation of Simpson and Weston's chemistry started wearing thin in the 3rd act, particularly a conversation about Weston's possible attraction to Foster), but Roday plays against expectations often enough that it's not really an issue, and even though it's a comedy he doesn't feel the need to keep things cheery - there aren't a lot of people left standing by the end. One character is sadly killed too early, but I get it - it lets you know up front that this isn't going to skip on the horror part of the "horror comedy" equation. I wouldn't want to see any of them go that soon, actually - everyone's pretty charming, and I loved how they all seemed to really care about each other. When Rodriguez suspects it's just a robbery, he tells them that only he knows the code so they might as well let everyone else go, and nearly everyone lies instantly, saying they know the code too, thus sparing him (so they hope) from a certain death. It's rather sweet - not a thing I can say about even regular comedies these days, let alone ones about cannibals.
The disc has a few extras, though they're fairly skippable. There's a commentary with Roday, Foster, and Simpson, and while group commentaries for this sort of thing tend to be pretty lively and hilarious, the track is in some serious need of Red Bull. There are a few fun anecdotes and bits of trivia, like the trouble they had securing rights to a folksy children's song that was in the script because the artist wasn't sure if she wanted her kids' song in an R rated cannibal movie, but it's also loaded with long pauses, and there isn't as much banter as I'd expect/want from such a thing. An interview with the trio was seemingly recorded in the same session, so even though it's edited down it still has some dead pauses and subdued interactions; the EPK making of is a bit better but it's also an EPK - it's hardly essential entertainment.
The film is getting a limited release theatrically on Friday (today by the time this posts) before its Blu-ray release on Tuesday, a strategy that may make sense to some folks but I am certainly not among them. I'm all for the theatrical experience and love that it's technically not going to be direct to DVD, but I also know that even if I told you it was the best movie of the year and you HAD to see it in theaters, there would be less than a dozen people there, and instead of a good crowd experience you will likely feel kind of awkward, all scattered around a big theater - it will actually hamper your enjoyment. So wait a few days for the disc, order up some tacos, and invite a few friends over instead. You'll have more fun, I guarantee it.
What say you?