Feast (US - DVD R1)
Gabe liked Project Greenlight, but isn't so sure about the film it produced...
A group of drunks and misfits get trapped in a bar by giant monsters that want to eat them. That's the single sentence set-up of Project Greenlight's third season motion picture. There really isn't much more to it than that, but that's what makes it so much fun.
I didn't see the first two seasons of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Chris Moore's experiment in film television series, but when season three came around you couldn't tear me away. Project Greenlight, for those who don't know, is a reality show where our two celebrity producers and their producer friend pick one of hundreds of scripts and couple it with a first time director to make a movie. Seasons one and two produced films that no one saw, and in hopes of making some money, the crew went to Dimension Films for a little help.
Now, those of us who love horror films already knew that the project was in trouble, based on Dimension Films' (a subsidiary of Disney) notorious penchant for ruining good ideas with intervention, re-editing, and general mucking about. Regardless, the decision to make a horror film under the studio was made, and director Wes Craven was brought on for additional production help (though he too would end up in a fight with Dimension that year over final cut of Cursed).
The real drama started when Craven, Damon, and Affleck all disapproved of the studio's choice in script, a little horror/comedy written by first timers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan called Feast. To appease the creative types, the other producers allowed Craven, Damon, and Affleck pick the project's director. In defiance to the script choice, first time director John Gulager was chosen. The joke here was that Gulager was the most artistically motivated of all the finalists, and they coupled him with the least artistically motivated script available.
The rest of the season was nothing but trouble. The studio forced the writers to rewrite half the script, making viewers really wonder why they picked it in the first place. Gulager tried casting his friends and family, and ended up being one of the most peculiar, self-doubting, and introverted men in the world. Nobody trusted the script or the director, including the crew. It was all a recipe for horrible disaster, and needless to say I needed to see it.
Fast-forward about two years, and the newly independent Weinstein Company finally sees fit to release Feast to the curious public with almost zero theatrical release. The final film is a mess, but a good mess. Not surprisingly, Wes, Matt, and Ben were correct, the script isn't very good, but Gulager is great. The mix of artsy first time directing and entirely unoriginal, amateur writing makes for an entertaining, if not unmemorable film.
First the bad. The basic script set up (minus dialogue) could've been written by a twenty-something Quentin Tarantino. It's a big, fat homage to the gore and tits horror films of the '80s, complete with varied specific references. The funny thing is that a twenty-something Quentin Tarantino did write this script, and ended up selling it to the very company that produced this film. It was called From Dusk 'Till Dawn. I'm not the first to say this, and I won't be the last. A group of misfits trapped in a bar by supernatural monsters, made as an homage to classic gore flicks had already been done, and that's all there is too it.
As a fan of over-the-top horror violence, and visuals over content, I'm not going to discount a script just because it's unoriginal. Beyond the unoriginality, however, is the real problem, which is that these guys can't write dialogue. Feast is a collection of every single spoken cliché from horror and action film history, all in one box that's been wrapped by your six-year-old sister in last year’s Christmas wrapping paper, with too much tape, and all the edges left exposed, and it isn't charming. If ever there was a couple of writers that didn't get why Bruce Campbell's one-liners in the Evil Dead sequels were so good, it's Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. And when I say every single line, I mean it. Nobody talks in this film, they quote better movies.
There are a few dropped ideas that point to what might have been a more ambitious script, either that or the writers just forgot some of what they'd written. These include one character ditching the others and never getting his or her comeuppance, something moving under a character's flesh that I thought was leading to a Cronenberg style transformation, and the creature’s super quick reproduction.
But something nice should be said about the gooey set ups, of which there are plenty. Unoriginal plot and bad dialogue aside, Melton and Dunstan had some great set pieces in their little horror-geek repertoires, and that's really what it's all about. Personally, I just did my best to pretend I'd never seen From Dusk 'Till Dawn, and ignored all the lame dialogue clichés. At least I tried.
On the good side is Gulager, who shocked everyone by not only being a decent director, but by 'getting' the script better than even its writers. Gulager doesn't do anything super original, but channels all the right people, namely Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. Feast has energy to spare. The camera is always moving, and the angles always interesting. Gulager and DP Thomas L. Callaway (who didn't get along at all) have created a predictable comic book colour pallet, but I honestly couldn't see this script being shot any other way. There's the odd off shot and some scenes have been over-edited, but anyone who saw the show knows what kind of pressure the man was under.
The real stars here are the monsters and gore effects. The effects appear somewhere between realistic and completely phoney, which works as the film slides between horror and comedy pretty gracefully. The lo-tech, practical nature of the effects is one of the elements that really separates the film from other recent monster movie which have made the mistake of presenting digital monsters without the appropriate budget. Sometimes you just have to physically throw the baby monster across the room, rather than creating an elaborate digital character.
Gulager was actually allowed to cast his father and girlfriend in his film in the end, but the rest of the cast was much more studio imposed. The cast runs just as hot and cold as the rest of the flick, but there are some nice standouts. The two leads (if you can consider them leads) Krista Allen and Balthazar Getty are believable in their arcs, and Allen really bites into her tough girl role as well as any of the lovely ladies of the equally girl-empowering Descent. Funny man Judah Friedlander reads the bad dialogue better than anyone on the set, and Jenny Wade is more than easy on the eyes. The folly here is wasting Henry Rollins.
I thought they were filming Feast in HD, but I must have made that up because the finished film isn't exactly pristine. Gulager's stylized colour schemes and dark compositions aside, for a new flick this is a very grainy print. Colours are well produced and hues are bright, but black levels often take on aspects of the rest of the composition. If a scene is generally red, black levels are too warm, and if a scene is generally blue, they appear too cool. I'm reasonably sure this wasn't done on purpose. Considering the bar Genius Products have set for themselves (every one of their previous film releases I've reviewed have looked great), Feast is a disappointment.
Feast is an aggressive, um, feast for the ears. We're not talking drop-dead awesome, but very good. Directional effects are nearly perfect, and the bass levels are room shaking. The creatures are constantly trying to find a way into the bar, and the surround channels are constantly active with scratching and knocking, which adds menace to even the most innocent dialogue sequences. The monsters themselves sound too much like other poplar movie monsters (like Aliens, Predators, and velociraptors) for me to give the sound designers massive props, but the sound really adds some class to what's basically a classless motion picture.
What the Hell happened here? You've got an entire television season of making of information, and these are the best special features you can come up with Weinstein Company? Had the third season of Project Greenlight also been made available on DVD, I'd be satisfied with a bare bones DVD release of the film, but it wasn't, and I am not. The disc's producers could've easily hired some kid straight out of film school to edit down the footage to a ninety-minute feature documentary. Hell, I bet Gulager would've done it himself.
What fans do get is a group commentary, some deleted scenes, a set of featurettes, and some bloopers. The commentary is a real boys club of giggling and scene description, but very little insight. On the whole, the track is kind of obnoxious, but I'm sure those who really loved the film will have some fun. It's too bad producers Craven, Damon, and Affleck couldn't have added a track of their own.
The featurettes really don't tell us anything about the behind the scenes drama, and are too short to offer up any actual knowledge of the filmmaking process. In short, these are press kit advertisements, made to hype the film. They're almost heartbreaking when one considers the hours of good footage that's gone to waste.
The deleted scenes are actually, for the most part, elongated versions of scenes already in the film. The filmmakers were right to shorten them. There is one scene, however, that reveals that perhaps someone at Dimension actually put two and two together and realized the similarities between Feast and From Dusk 'Till Dawn. In the scene the monsters are chased away by shafts of sunlight that leak into the bar and burn their flesh.
Bloopers and trailers round out the disc.
A squishy delight for horror/comedy fans, Feast offers no originality, but has a good attitude and knows how to have fun. If one can ignore the cringe-worthy dialogue, and has the stomach for a lot of icky gore, than one should give Feast a rent, though I can't recommend a purchase. The DVD is a huge disappointment, considering the fact that the film came out of an intriguing TV show, and there was a plethora of background footage that could've been incorporated into the disc. Maybe the Weinstein company has plans on releasing Project Greenlight: Season Three on DVD sometime soon, but I seriously doubt it.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 17th October 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Filmmaker Commentary, Horror Under the Spotlight: Making Feast, The Blood and Guts of Gary Tunnicliffe, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Gulager
Cast: Eric Dane, Navi Rawat, Krista Allen, Balthazar Getty, Diane Goldner, Henry Rollins
Length: 92 minutes
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