Bitter Feast is destined to become a cult favorite among those whose work is critiqued harshly – especially restaurant chefs. It concerns a semi-popular celebrity chef whose career is on the downswing before a scathing review from a miserable food blogger sends him over the edge. Both chef and critic have difficult histories, creating plot tension and leading to the inevitable showdown ending.
James LeGros is a peculiar kind of character actor and his quirks lend well to the character Chef Peter Gray. Peter is humorless in life, with his coolness on his cooking show tempered by the vapidly bubbly Peg, which he resents. Despite the fact that the blistering review of Gray’s new restaurant is made by an online critic who blasts every bit of food he eats – Gray loses his job in a scene with a fun (if unimpressive as far as acting goes) cameo by true celebrity chef Mario Batali. The food blogging critic in question is JT Franks played with typical detachment by Josh Leonard. Franks is a hollow human being with no joy in life, which translates as he finds none in anything that he eats or critques. He’s become an insufferable and unsympathetic bastard, despite the explanation that is given for his depression.
Herein lies the main issue holding the film back from being excellent – the slacker-casual style of Leonard combined with a deeply unlikeable character results in a disconnect between victim and audience. I didn’t care what happened to Franks; there was no sense of immediacy or peril because there was never enough of a reason for me to care about him. It’s not Leonard’s fault – he really tries here. The issue is that JT Franks is written as little more than standard slasher fodder – someone we want to see the killer get – who’s lingered around longer than he should have. Tellingly, the movie comes to life each time that Frank’s wife, Katherine (Amy Seimetz) is on-screen – a light and a delight in an oppressively negative film.
Despite the lack of emotional impact, there is a lot of good here. Gray’s early coolness transitions easily to a sociopath’s madness later in the film in a quietly unhinged and impressive performance by LeGros. Also, a surprise – Seimetz’s Katherine isn’t just a victim but a fully-fleshed out and strong supporting role. For genre fans, Larry Fessenden shows up for some slight comedic relief as a private investigator who senses something’s not quite right with Gray. Easily my favorite aspect of the movie is it’s focus on food from a technical aspect – how and where it’s procured, when it’s in season, techniques for cooking – and how Gray employs each to teach his callous critic a lesson. The gore and FX are done very well, although I would argue that it was a bit much for reality (or this fairly intimate of a movie). The sound design and soundtrack are both worth mentioning – used effectively in the film especially the unexpectedly memorable theme song.
If you’re an amateur foodie like me (hi!) – you might enjoy Bitter Feast more than most. Even if you’re not – it’s a decent low-budget horror flick with a memorable lead performance and lots of trauma. Don’ t expect to get a 5-star meal in movie form and you shouldn’t be disappointed.