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BITTER FEAST, 2010
Starring James LeGros, Joshua Leonard, Larry Fessenden, Amy Seimetz, Mario Batali
A famous New York City chef exacts his revenge on an Internet food critic by kidnapping and torturing him at a remote cabin in the wilderness.
Horror is always at its best when served at room temperature with little fanfare. The less money spent on production, the more believable and gruesome it will likely look onscreen. For that reason, Joe Maggio’s indie release about a pompous television chef and his hatred of a particular NYC food critic is a flavorful mixture of subtle ingredients. The dialogue is peppered with cold, under biting language. The cinematography is bold but muted so it looks and feels believable. There are no booming sound explosions, nor are there any disorienting camera cuts that inevitably confuse the audience members. The timing of action is well paced and the suspense is as sharp as a stainless-steel chopping blade.
It would be much harder to witness Franks endure his punishment if we had any respect for the man. But Franks is a resentful, self-loathing misanthrope who seems to have written one too many snarky reviews. His own wife Katherine (Amy Seimetz) has lost endearing contact with him, and we begin to wonder what made her fall in love with the angry writer in the first place.
But not Gray. The premise behind “Bitter Feast” suggests that Gray lost all regard for his fellow man a long time ago, preferring the company of gourmet meats to any living human being. By psychological standards, Franks is not very much different. He is more consumed in meeting his deadline rather than meeting the personal needs of his wife. As the story progresses, so do the subtle similarities between these two men, both passionate in their respective industries. If not for their mutual hatred of one another, these two characters may have been best friends.
Therefore, this film differs from “Misery” and the “Saw” sequels in that the kidnapped victim is not one with whom we really care to identify. As Gray lectures and starves Franks at his remote cabin in the wilderness, Franks’ suffering is presented as more comical than horrific. For a restaurant reviewer whose opinions are as ruthless as his own attitude towards his wife, Franks is finally getting his just desserts.
But while it is captivating, there are some plot-structure devices that hinder the plausibility of Gray’s motivation. For one, how did he intend this affair to end? Clearly, he could not ever release Franks back to society. So how did he intend to get away with murder when he had such an obvious motivation? And where are the police anyway? Seems like this should be a slam dunk towards ending a missing persons report.
But since this is a movie, the entire search effort to locate Franks is whittled down to a private investigator named William Coley (Larry Fessenden, who also co-produced the film). Like Richard Farnsworth’s character Buster in “Misery”, Coley is the only one who understands the situation, thereby creating an escalated level of tension for the anti-heroic Gray. Beyond quickening the pace, his role in the whole affair is to expose character background for both the hunter and his captive. Yeah, he’s that guy in the movie who explains everything to the bad guy just to make sure he’s got it right.
In terms of dark and satirical comedy, the first two-thirds are very riveting. We may not be worrying about the fate of Mr. Franks, since he was such an unlikable prick to begin with. And Gray is such a blowhard of a perfectionist; the result is quite humorous when he tediously operates his torture plan as if he were conducting a live-air cooking demonstration. In these regards, the film speaks volumes about the fragile yet powerful egos residing within culinary experts, and their inabilities to digest harsh, publicized criticism.
But the movie takes a regrettable turn somewhere in the third act, as Gray adds an extra chair to the table for his perfect dinner. By kidnapping his enemy’s good-natured wife, Gray enters the world of the super-villainous. And his motivation at this point becomes even more questionable. If this whole scenario was indeed a crime of passion, then why involve Katherine, since she is clearly innocent of Frank’s scornful opinions? How does Gray even benefit from her physical agony?
Even though “Bitter Feast” makes it clear that Gray has a history of anger and violence issues, this third-act development jumps the shark in this story in that it has no clear placement in Gray’s admittedly twisted motivation. And it creates another bothersome question: what on Earth was he ever planning on doing with her?
But questions like these are not of great importance to the horror fan. Is there blood and do people get hit in the head with a shovel? Yes, both times. Is it scary? Macabre, yes. Scary, no. Too gruesome to enjoy my popcorn? If anything, this movie will stimulate your appetite since the characters talk about food around the clock. It’s like a demented edition of “Top Chef”, where the cook has the opportunity to strangle and burn the judges after preparing a five-course meal.