Kieran Reed’s All You Can Eat opens with the image of a three-eyed alien in a flying saucer, toothy mouth wide open to receive the severed human limb that it holds in one of its tentacles. What we are seeing will quickly turn out to be the neon-lit logo above roadside food outlet Planet Burrito (the text ‘eat’, flashing in green, merges with the film’s title).
This both sets the tone of Reed’s short film, and involves a certain misdirection. For as its very title suggests, All You Can Eat is concerned with consumption – and consumption of a predatory kind. It not only confines its action to the takeaway’s back rooms and periphery, but Planet Burrito is also very much Planet B – a restaurant whose pantry is, as text-happy, workshy waitress Nola Gombo (Verity Hayes) puts it, “more like a sodding laboratory”. There, the boss Kip Meatsock (Andy Muskett) obsessively experiments night and day with gloopy samples on petri dishes, as a mysterious voice (none other than Jello Biafra, beamed in as though from another world) – communicating via a rotary payphone from 1957 and being recorded on an old-school answering machine’s tape cassette – warns that these very samples are “excessively volatile and incredibly unstable”, and must not under any circumstance be brought into contact with “organic matter or any type of foodstuffs”.
Inevitably in an area dedicated to food service, there is cross-contamination of the extraterrestrial, possibly ‘evil’ substances and the Mexican comestibles on offer, giving rise to discarded burritos which definitely bite back. As Nola and her more industrious colleague Gurdip Chutney (Matt O’Toole) literally – and in no other sense – take out the trash on the orders of their manager (and Kip’s apparent fellow conspirator) Fenton Sandwich (Mitchell Gladstone), these snacks that attack rise from their bin bags, in cannily open acknowledgement of the film’s garbage sensibilities.
Despite sporting endless fangs and spitting acid, these creatures are less like the xenomorphs from Alien than the invaders from Douglas McKeown’s The Deadly Spawn (1983) – only rendered in food form. They pursue a terrified Nola across the establishment’s grassy backlot, their point of view – zooming in on her ‘Like a Virgin’ panties – suggesting that perhaps they want to eat her in more ways than one. This results in a slowed-down, sustained scream (with the sign ‘Eat’ visible in the background) before the roll of closing credits which formally imitate a diner menu. It is a memento mori reminding us that we all have our place on the food chain.
Even if there may be a little too much (cheap) talk and not quite enough (less cheap) action, All You Can Eat serves itself up as a taster for a bigger narrative, also implied by a bloody post-credits coda. The meat and sauce of this production are the impressively old-school practical creature FX of, heh, one Alan Smithee, in what is a tantalising proof of concept. It has a real love for the psychotronic aesthetics of both the Fifties and the Eighties – and, like any fast food, it is readily palatable and digestible, and does not try to sell itself as anything other than what it is, making a virtue of its own appalling yet appealing bad taste.
strap: Kieran Reed’s creature-featuring short is a gleefully knowing trawl through the consumerist trash of the Fifties and Eighties
© Anton Bitel