By now, you all know me well enough to know that I will kill for a great horror film. Sure, I like the blood and guts and slashing and hacking that often comes with the genre, but when I find a horror film that tantalizes both the mind and the senses, well, I just die. Thankfully, we've got a real champion of indie films and the horror genre in Larry Fessenden and Glass Eye Pix, who took a big bite of the great line-up of films at the 2010 LA Film Festival with BITTER FEAST, a deliciously wicked film written and directed by genre newbie, Joe Maggio. And returning with Fassenden for his own just desserts is none other than Joshua Leonard who wowed us in 2009 in "Humpday".
Peter Grey is a self-absorbed pompous ass television chef who was tormented by his brother during his childhood. A typical little nerdy "four eyes", Peter's brother took great glee in dominating, beating up, attacking, picking on and insulting poor little Peter, even going so far as to limit his time to go pee when nature called. When playing out in the woods, there was no escape from Peter as he was hunted down by his brother in games of make believe, that somehow seemed just a bit too real. But things change as one grows up and matures, or does it? Clearly, Peter's current pomposity and arrogance is the result of his need to be the one in charge, the one in the limelight. Boasting on his cooking show "The Feast" about his skills as a hunter, butcher and all around organically inspired chef, hunting and killing and foraging for all of his ingredients, he is a psychiatrist's dream. Sadly, he's not in therapy that we know of and merely exacts his emotional revenge on all that cross his path.
Thanks to his own lack of people skills , Peter's show is cancelled, his cookware contracts up in flames and his restaurant and his cooking skills, well they've been skewered to death by the immortal food critic, J.T. Franks, blogger of "Gastropunks." And of course, Grey blames Franks for everything as he couldn't possibly be the cause of his own misfortune.
Franks is another piece of work. Domineering, snarky, and also pompous and arrogant, he suffers with delusions of grandeur about himself, his own self-perceived superiority and his opinions. He is right and everyone else is wrong. And he doesn't give a damn about anyone else in the world except himself. Between Franks and Grey they should open up their own exclusive club for the egomaniacal.
Still harboring those deep-seeded resentments of childhood, Grey masterminds a plan to gain the upper hand and not only make Franks pay for what he has done to his reputation and professional career, but also alter his perceptions and bring him around to his own way of thinking in the appreciation of food. So, Grey kidnaps Franks and chains him up in the basement of Grey's cabin deep in the woods in which he played as a child. Torturing Franks by forcing him to learn to cook and appreciate masterful cooking and exquisitely prepared cuisine, Grey also excels at physical torture, exacting the same sort of brutality on Franks as his brother exacted on him, only this time with real knives, guns and other weaponry. In a wild game between the hunter and the hunted, Grey spirals ever deeper into manic passions fueled by the ecstasy of culinary delights and sensations.
With BITTER FEAST, Joe Maggio serves up a seven course meal of pure genius. Razor sharp acerbic wit whets the palette, making you beg for more as you are drawn deeper and deeper into the darkness of culinary genius and egomania, resulting in unabashed laughter peppering each scene. The characters of Grey and Franks are perfect foils and perfectly crafted, seasoned with the right amount of arrogance making them each delicious to watch.
Technically, there is nothing bitter to the senses. Thanks to Director of Photography Michael McDonough, color is saturated and rich like the most decadent desserts. Framing is tight and intimate while night lensing using natural light and a Canon 5D Mark II SR camera raises the tension on screen to the boiling point. Particularly notable is the make-up work of Brian Spears who makes injuries inflicted on our poor critic Franks more than realistic and consistent (given shooting was non-sequential). Maggio, a self-proclaimed foodie, makes certain particular detail is paid to food preparation and technique, bringing in a culinary hand person for beauteous and exacting effect, as well as utilizing cooking techniques and recipes of none other than Mario Batali, who is in the film. And if technical awards are ever handed out to BITTER FEAST, long time Glass Eye sound designer, Graham Reznick, takes the cake as his work here is masterful. Integrating Jeff Grace's great score with action and dialogue, he layers sounds, adjusting levels to enhance the flavor of each scene and build anticipation and tension as if one was salivating over the smell of a roasting turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
But let's talk about acting! Festival favorite Joshua Leonard really stirs the pot as JT Franks. We saw him last year in "Humpday" and loved him, but as Franks he raises the bar to levels of excellence I have never seen in him before. Likewise for James LeGros as Peter Grey - deliciously nasty and never moreso than when conveying fear and terror. And they both nail arrogant pomposity to a tee. Their timing is meticulous, with neither missing a beat and together, they are explosive.
There's nothing bitter about BITTER FEAST. It's too die for.
Peter Grey - James LeGros
JT Franks - Joshua Leonard
Written and Directed by Joe Maggio.