Perhaps more so than any other genre, the rules of horror are well known to audiences. Some of the most influential horror films out there are built entirely on the backs of outlining the tropes upon which they function, and unfortunately, just as many movies consider the highlighting of these tropes as a substitute for wit. Far more satisfying is when a movie plays with expectations without first holding the audience’s hand through an explanation of what’s going on beforehand. Better still to trust them, understanding that while casual fans might be alienated, the serious genre junkies will get served with some red meat.
2005’s Feast, the product of Affleck and Damon’s Project Greenlight, is one such movie. It introduces its characters in the apotheosis of a short-lived trend in horror/comedy cinema of introducing its characters with their names splashed over the screen. Feast, as will become its hallmark, gleefully overdoes it, not only listing the character’s name, but their job, occupation (sometimes both), a fun fact, and their life expectancy. The character’s names are almost always simple descriptors, too, like Tuffy, Harley Mom, Bossman, Bartender, and so on.
The film also wastes no time in showing that these life expectancies really only apply to other horror films these characters might find themselves in. When a muscly shotgun-toting badass named “Hero” shows up, or there’s the cute and precocious elementary-aged kid of a good-looking single mom, we figure those are going to be two of the survivors, battered but unbroken, greeting the dawn in the end. We certainly aren’t expecting both to be messily devoured within moments of meeting them. Similarly, when Tuffy is introduced having disinterested sex with Bossman, she’s instantly marked for death because of horror’s weirdly conservative sexual mores. When she takes charge and even receives a new name, she’s subverting just as many tropes. The audacity of the early deaths gives Feast something so few movies have: the livewire sense that literally anyone can die at any time.
The movie opens in a roadhouse in the ass end of nowhere at night. We’re introduced to the walking chum that will eventually be painting the walls red, when Hero comes in. He’s bloody, he’s carrying a shotgun, and he has the kind of square-jawed good looks that say “Don’t worry, ladies, I got this Necronomicon thing handled.” Then the monsters attack, killing the people in bright, ridiculous sprays of gore and viscera. The movie turns into a siege survival horror picture, saving money on locations even as it uses the claustrophobic environs to enhance the tension.
The characters continue to subvert expectations, even beyond when they’re messily killed. No matter how silly Feast gets, and it is intended as a splatter-comedy in the vein of Tucker and Dale, the characters react with impeccable logic. If one of them thinks they can escape the horror, they’re going to give it a shot, teamwork be damned. This isn’t a group. This is a collection of individuals doing some very cold math on whether or not they’ll survive the night even relatively intact.
The FX are perhaps the best part of the movie. Though it’s a mid-‘00s film, the makers eschewed CGI in favor of the practical. The blood sprays have a pleasing juicy quality to them, the skinned faces, dismemberments, and other mutilations carrying a satisfying weight. By the end of the movie, the roadhouse is absolutely soaked in the insides of the people there. The blood is so thick, there is almost a scent to it.
The monsters are even better, a triumph of latex and puppeteering. They wisely shoot around the limitations, hiding the false notes with dark sets and quick cuts. This creates solid characters for the actors to play off of. There’s no guesswork, and the reactions feel far more genuine. And there is just no substitute for a good puppet when it comes to physical interactions. In a stroke of inspiration, there’s even layers to the creature design, as they wear costumes of fur and cow skulls. It allows a dual reveal, first of the monster’s clothing, then of the monster itself.
Feast is dismissed by its detractors as juvenile. They’re not wrong. This is a bit more of a feature than a bug, as it’s clear the defiantly elementary-school sense of humor is part of the package. This is not a place to go for a highbrow deconstruction of Wittgenstein, this is a place where monsters get castrated. For the most part, the humor lands (with a car-alarm joke being the most inspired gag in the bunch). An oral rape falls flat for me, despite how over-the-top it is. I think some of this is the changing landscape of the discussion, which I’m going to call a good thing. Call that moment a remnant of mid-‘00s insensitivity. And, to be fair, if the victim were a man, I’d likely be fine with it and thus be a big ol’ hypocrite.
The cast is an odd but often inspired collection of familiar faces from that era. Balthazar Getty plays Bozo, a character who often flirts with heroism but whose incompetence keeps biting him in the ass. National treasure Henry Rollins is Coach, a Tony Robbins-like motivational speaker who isn’t nearly as inspiring as he believes himself to be. Judah Friedlander of 30 Rock is Beer Guy, who gets puked on by a monster and spends the rest of the film rotting. Other familiar faces include Clu Gulager, Krista Allen, Jenny Wade, and Jason Mewes (playing a version of himself).
No one is going to put Feast on any best-of lists, but there’s a lot to like about this plucky little gore fest. In its compulsive desire to offend, it’s almost sweetly endearing, and the throwback FX are such a welcome sight in the modern digital landscape. If you’re in the mood for an over-the-top gorefest, Feast will treat you right.