The word ‘broil’ has two senses: on the one hand, it refers, whether as verb or noun, to a violent argument or brawl; and on the other, it is a verb that denotes roasting, and a noun for roasted meat.
All these associations will eventually be brought into play in Edward Drake’s Broil, although the first meaning comes early. For near the film’s beginning, Chance (Avery Konrad), dressed in devil’s horns at a raucous fancy dress party, viciously attacks a classmate who photographs her having sex in a closet with another girl. Nearly 18, and with a genetic condition that requires she have regular blood transfusions, Chance is an adolescent lashing out against her oppressive boarding school, her weird family and the changes in her own body. When her aggression leads to expulsion, Chance is reluctantly sent to be homeschooled by her grandfather August (Timothy V. Murphy), the cunning patriarch of the Sinclair family and their immense fortune – even as Chance’s parents June (Annette Reilly) and mute December (Nels Lennarson) are plotting to kill August and to take his place at the head of the household.
As the time approaches for the annual dinner when the entire Sinclair clan comes together, June coerces 24-year-old Sydney Lawson (Jonathan Lipnicki) – a mysterious, autistic chef with a chequered past and a sideline in toxicology and assassination – to serve as cook for the evening and to poison August. “Let the games begin,” declares August when they arrive at his estate, signalling that he knows full well what is coming – and it will indeed be a long, dark night of games, betrayals and revenge, with Sydney’s meal at the centre of everything.
We know from early on that there is something unnatural about the Sinclairs, but by obscuring their precise nature for a while, and by chopping up – butcher-like – the chronology of his (and co-writer Piper Mars’) story, Drake is able to mark the Sinclairs’ monstrousness as metaphor. Confronted by Sydney with who her kinsfolk really are, Chance replies: “No, we’re just rich. Rich people are weird. That is a fact.” Sure enough, here, as in Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic (2019) and Matt Bettinelli-Olpen and Tyler Gillett’s Ready Or Not (2019), supernaturally insatiable hunger is a mere mask for the everyday excesses of the superrich.
Sydney, by contrast, comes from a broken family and spent most of his teens on the streets, making his embroilment with the Sinclairs a clash of class as much as an age-old battle of good and evil. Sydney’s life, as his friend Freddie (Lochlyn Munro) puts it, “makes Greek tragedies look like fairytales.” Broil, on the other hand, is a bit like both, coming with all the family feuds, succession struggles and forbidden feasts of a classic dynastic tragedy, and all the folkloric fantasy of a fairytale.
A morally messy tale of corrupting power, eternal greed, and an unexpected, revolutionary counterforce, Broil shows the monster – and messiah – latent in us all, and turns a fraught family get-together into an epic of multi-dimensional proportions. Drake’s second feature following Animals (2012) is an ambitious, elaborate, well-balanced menu that comes cooked just right and perfectly presented.
© Anton Bitel