Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 10/17/06 17:41:11

5 stars (Awesome)

For those unfamiliar with the title, “Feast” is the result of the latest “Project Greenlight” contest, in which some lucky aspiring filmmaker is chosen to make the movie of his/her dreams, provided that cameras get to document every minute of the movie’s creation and broadcast it to millions. The first two “Greenlight” movies were personal coming-of-age dramedies (the lifeless “Stolen Summer” and the fairly enjoyable “The Battle of Shaker Heights”), so to shake things up, the series producers (which include Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) chose to select a horror flick as their third go. Horror icon Wes Craven was then wheeled in to act as an extra producer.

That’s as much as I know about the film’s backstory; I have never seen an episode of “Greenlight,” so I can’t comment beyond the paragraph above as to how “Feast” ultimately came to be, or how contest winners Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton felt about having their screenplay handled by contest winning director John Gulager (son of Clu, who stars in the film), or how much the producers got in the way of this or that. All I can say is that I’ve seen the final product, and damn, if this isn’t one heck of a fun time at the spook show.

The premise is very simple: an assortment of colorful characters are enjoying an evening at a dingy bar in the middle of nowhere when a blood-soaked hero bursts through the door, holds up a monster’s head, and warns all that these sumbitches are coming. The rest, then, is what happens when a bunch of drunks, floozies, and weirdoes have to fend off a monster attack.

Which sounds a lot like “From Dusk Til Dawn,” and considering the frantic mix of tongue-in-cheek splatter, oddball comedy, and well-earned creature feature scares, it’s obvious that the Robert Rodriguez vampire extravaganza is the inspiration here. But - dare I say it? - “Feast” is an improvement. This is a ballsy, full-on effort, sharply written and skillfully made, presented with nothing but wild, vulgar fun in mind.

Gulager, who has worked a variety of behind-the-scenes crew jobs (including several stints as cinematographer) before winning the director’s seat, reveals here a keen eye for everything that makes a horror movie like this work. The pacing is breakneck, the comedy is meticulously delivered, the splatter thrown our way with the relish of a madman.

And yes, the shocks are actually shocking. When we’re given a jump-scare or other such surprise, it’s never the sort of cheap cop-out most new filmmakers supply as a way of covering up for their inability to actually scare us. Gulager’s knack for the timing of a horror movie is impeccable, knowing how to set up the thrills, when to back off on the tension, why different types of scares work at different times. Here is a director so adept at thrilling us that the frights - and the fun - shine through in every frame.

At his side is a screenplay that has the monster genre down pat, eager to play along with the formula yet with a cleverness that still allows the story to surprise us repeatedly. The key is in the character introductions, which include a bit of on-screen text revealing, among other things, each player’s projected life expectancy. It’s all so very self-aware, in a good way: here’s a movie ready to tell us that yes, the asshole won’t last long while the kind-hearted heroine will, while grey-area harass characters aren’t so easy to judge. (Best of the bunch: a wheelchair-bound nice guy has good odds, as the movie asks us, “They wouldn’t kill a cripple, would they?”) Ah, but the movie just might be lying to us, because it’s smart enough to understand the clichés and to know exactly when to break from them. (Although when we’re promised one character will receive a “horrifying death in 70 minutes,” it’s a pact between movie and audience that the movie’s willing to keep. “Feast” knows what we want, after all.)

It’s also so self-aware that it gives us Jason Mewes as, well, Jason Mewes. Mewes, known to pretty much everyone in the “Feast” target audience as “Jay” in Kevin Smith’s comedies, appears in a minor, nameless role in the film’s early scenes, and the filmmakers realize that since a majority of the audience is bound to shout out “hey, it’s Jason Mewes!,” why not just say he’s playing himself and get it over with? It’s just one more way for the filmmakers to shoot a wink our way.

The comedy holds throughout the entire picture, thanks to a care-free attitude that runs rampant, a running gag that has every good plan go bad in the worst ways, and another that has Beer Guy (Judah Friedlander) suffering what may be the slowest death ever put on screen. The cast - which also includes Balthazar Getty, Krista Allen, Duane Whitaker, Josh Zuckerman, and Henry Rollins, hilariously playing against type as a motivational speaker - is obviously savoring every ounce of over-the-top chaos.

That “Feast” can so carefully balance well-played horror and comedy throughout its entire running time is a sure indicator that it is bound to become a classic of some sort, most likely of the cult variety. This is a goofy, scary, quotable thrill ride that demands multiple viewings; its endless entertainment value makes it the perfect party flick. This is the monster movie at full speed, a gross-out extravaganza that finally allows “Greenlight” to do what it promised: proudly introduce us to a handful of genuine talents.

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