Most artists take criticism to heart. Some choose to let it serve a more positive purpose - as a guide for how not to screw up the next time (i.e. how to improve) - while others go nuts over trying to properly locate their own mistakes. There haven't been many films that have even thought about dealing with this seldom sought-after aspect of critic culture, but "Bitter Feast" might just be the little movie that could. An Independently-produced horror movie with satirical undertones and a demented sense of dark - make that very dark - humor, produced by Larry Fessenden and released under his production company Glass Eye Pix; the film had a hard time hitting the shelves, but now it has, and those who do enjoy it can keep on doing so. Indeed, most people will not see it; but I think as a film that takes some solid jabs at critics of all kinds - and making some appropriately scathing commentary on their lifestyles while it's at it - more people should seek it out.
The artist is New York-based chef Peter Gray (James LeGros). The critic is JT Franks (Joshua Leonard). Peter lives a privileged life, living off the riches that his profession has granted him, but barely able to survive the actual job. You see, Peter hosts a television program called The Feast (with another woman, his co-host, who he openly hates); and it's not doing its best lately. That's where Mr. Franks comes in. He writes a very, very negative review of the restaurant - not the show that goes along with it - and soon after finding the publication online, Peter's boss fires him from the job. Of course, this leaves Peter particularly heartbroken, with virtually nowhere to go after this. He's a talented cook - and he often felt as if the show never quite lived up to his gifts - but he takes it upon himself to make madness and vengeance high on the list of his newest, deepest, darkest obsessions.
Yes, you guessed it; he kidnaps JT Franks out of anger, and proceeds to chain him up in the basement of his farmhouse (Peter also owns a fancy apartment in the city, with an elevator). It is there that most of the action takes place; with Peter subjecting his victim to a seemingly never-ending string of psychological and physical torture. Most of the time, he's reversing their roles; asking Mr. Franks to cook for him, in front of him, and ultimately letting him be the judge of whether he is worthy of further survival. Such scenes can be appropriately menacing at times, even if they fail to truly get under your skin.
I can safely say that the film is a mess, but hey; at least it's a well-acted, competently shot and directed mess. That's more than I probably could have ever asked for from a film so ridiculously uneven. "Bitter Feast" certainly lives up to the first part of its title; as it is dark, depressing, and never quite lets the audience know when it wants them to laugh and when it wants them to cringe (although the gore is a pretty damn good indicator of the latter). It borders on dark satire and serious horror at times; never really coming up with a good enough story and/or characters to maintain too much balance. Also, some scenes - including ones intended to provide backstories for the characters - are borderline terrible. Still, its entertaining most of the time, has an excellent premise; and now, all it lacks is satisfying execution.
The mouth is overcome by a very odd taste after the film has been watched. I can't tell if that's a good or a bad thing; all I know is that it didn't completely agree with me. The film is all over the place, off-the-wall insane at times, but ultimately, I feel it lacks the kind of human insight into subjects such as psychotic breakdowns, mental illness, and the world of the negative critique that would have made it a fascinating watch instead of just an overall decent - but forgettable - one. I am happy that it is, well, this; instead of just a boring, mediocre, stupid indie flick. It could have ended up like that, but instead, it shows a lot of promise in its director, Joe Maggio. I hope he goes on to make something bigger and better in the near future. But for now, we've got this. A horror-comedy that comes short of greatness or even goodness; but still manages to provoke the instantaneous craving for eggs, steak, and human flesh. It could have been such a glorious feast.