Feed first published by Film4, in January 2006
Summary: The body horror is laid on thick and heavy in Brett Leonard’s darkly comic thriller, where the dynamics of desire are reduced to consent, control and consumption. Not one for the weak of stomach.
Review: Both as a novel and in its inevitable adaptation for the big screen, Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, courted controversy for the grotesque shock value of its climactic scene, in which a character unwittingly dines on lightly sautéed slices of his own lobotomised brain. So it is perhaps testimony to how quickly jaded we all become with the extremes of cinematic sensationalism that the sequence of self-cannibalism in Brett Leonard’s Feed comes right at the beginning, serving as a mere appetiser to the stomach-churning specialties on the rest of the film’s menu.
Still reeling from his last case, in which a man from Hamburg willingly ate slices of his own cooked flesh, Sydney-based cyber crime investigator Phillip Jackson (Patrick Thompson) chances upon a website called FeederX.com that caters to an erotic sub-culture of fat-loving men (or ‘feeders’) who keep obese women (or ‘gainers’) well-fed. Troubled by the site’s macabre publication of the gainers’ unhealthy biodata, as well as by its suspiciously high level of security, Phillip believes that he has uncovered something akin to snuff, and in defiance of the direct orders of his boss (Jack Thompson, Patrick Thompson’s real-life father), he races to Toledo, Ohio in the hope of finding the mysterious FeederX.
Phillip quickly tracks down married, middle-class Michael (Alex O’Loughlin), but in the psychological cat-and-mouse that ensues, it becomes less and less clear what crime exactly Michael is supposed to be committing, or whether his enormous gainer Deirdre (Gabby Millgate) is in any way a victim, or indeed whether Phillip’s own motives are entirely pure – until, that is, the shock dénouement that is quite literally difficult to swallow.
Best known for the cultish cyber-schlock of Virtuosity (1995) and The Lawnmower Man (1992), director Leonard shows a real talent for having his cake and eating it too in his exposure of the feeder/gainer community. On the one hand, right from its very opening sequence of Michael purchasing bagfuls of burgers at a drive-through and then masturbating as he shovels them into the voluminous Deirdre’s mouth, Feed does not flinch from exploiting the more repulsively gross-out aspects of the sub-culture. On the other hand, by repeatedly emphasising Deirdre’s consent (however uninformed), and by systematically intercutting scenes to suggest that Michael’s drives and appetites are not really so very different from those of the more conventional (if equally messed up) Phillip, the film manages to erode the viewer’s initial prejudices. By the end, when it has been revealed just how far both men are willing to go, the average feeder/gainer relationship is left seeming positively healthy – even normal – by comparison.
Following hard in the footsteps of David Fincher‘s Se7en (1995) with its fusion of film noir and body horror, Feed exposes a deep sickness at the core of human (especially male) desire, while at the same time satirising the insatiable consumerism of modern, dog-eat-dog society. Shot on High Definition video through a bold variety of distorting lenses and colour filters, the film depicts its strange erotic underworld with a queasy visual style that is in itself enough to get a weak stomach turning and churning; while the soundtrack features a range of innocuous romantic pop tunes (‘Cherish’, ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’, ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini’) that will never sound quite the same again.
Verdict: Deeply shocking and darkly funny, Brett Leonard’s nausea noir slowly brings its fetishistic satire of consumerism and control to the boil, before ramming it right down the throat.