by Jason Coffman
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While critics continue to bemoan the “torture porn” category of mainstream horror films and audiences seem to have grown just as tired of them, the Saw/Hostel model of horror shows little sign of going away any time soon. A few films have taken the concept and dressed it up in new clothes to varying degrees of success, but in the end they’re still basically the same thing. Bitter Feast is a recent example of a film that fulfills all the apparent requirements for “torture porn,” but adds a unique spin to distract audiences from all that beating and abuse.
Peter Gray (James LeGros) is a chef and co-host of The Feast with Peter Gray, a cooking show. As Gray becomes more and more obsessed with using local and organic ingredients, he becomes irritable and difficult to work with. His ratings are slipping, and the opening of his new restaurant is sabotaged by a savage review by influential food blogger J.T. Franks (Joshua Leonard). When the review results in Gray being fired from his own restaurant, he snaps and kidnaps Franks. Franks’s wife Katherine (Amy Seimetz) hires a private detective (Larry Fessenden) to find J.T. while Gray commutes between shooting the last episodes of his show and torturing J.T. by reading him back his own bitter reviews and forcing him to participate in a series of games. The result of these games is typically Franks being beaten severely.
Bitter Feast, in some ways, feels like an update of the Vincent Price classic Theatre of Blood. LeGros seems to be enjoying hamming it up as the pompous Gray, dealing justice to the critic who has no concept of how his writing actually impacts other people. Franks, however, is given much more of a story and character than the critics in Theatre of Blood. The audience is tipped off early that much of his anger is rooted in frustrated literary ambitions and the loss of his child. This serves to make Franks at least a little human, although he is still a very unpleasant character.
And, of course, once Franks has been kidnapped, the film becomes a series of protracted scenes of abuse and torture. If it weren’t for the unique setup (and LeGros’s performance), there would be little to separate these scenes from those in any other “torture porn” film. This fact, in addition to the groan-inducingly obvious finale, leaves somewhat of a bad aftertaste (pun not entirely intended). Fans of LeGros and Fessenden will definitely want to give Bitter Feast a look, but for most other filmgoers, it might be less appetizing (pun, unfortunately, intended).
Dark Sky Films released Bitter Feast on DVD 4 January 2011. Special features include a filmmaker commentary, making-of featurette, an interview with chef Mario Batali, and more.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org.
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