It’s not uncommon for television actors to star in and/or direct an indie feature between seasons of their television day jobs. They’re often a bit more artsy than the t.v. actor’s usual bill of fare but most of them try to hit a careful mix of hip and audience-friendly: Zach Braff’s Garden State is perhaps the most successful example of the style of between t.v. seasons indie.
However, some t.v. stars dabbling in filmmaking swing for the fences and try to do something different. Gravy, co-written and directed by Psych star James Roday, is an interesting example of the latter that acts a kind of comical love letter to the cannibal/serial killer film.
Gravy takes place at a Mexican restaurant as the crew is closing up and having a little going away party for Kerry (Sutton Foster), a staffer who is leaving to take on a new gig as a paramedic. Unfortunately, this humble celebration is disrupted by a trio of psychos: leader Stef (Jimmi Simpson), Mimi (Lily Cole) and Anson (Michael Weston). This triumvirate tie the staff to chairs and tell them that they are going to have an all-night party that happens to involve cooking and eating the restaurant workers. They begin a series of parlor games to determine who goes first as the dwindling crew tries to figure out an escape.
For a film that contains periodic dollops of gore from the KNB-EFX group, Gravy is a surprisingly whimsical affair. Even at their bloodiest, the horrific moments are tempered with a gleefully goofy sense of humor to create a result that is more splatstick than slapstick. Pop songs are used on the soundtrack to provide an ironic counterpoint in scenes that would be played for terror or suspense in a traditional horror flick. The film also has a traditional comedy verve in its filmmaking: Roday’s direction is snappy, boasting candy-colored cinematography by Amanda Treyz and a jaunty pop score co-composed by ex-Tears For Fears member Curt Smith.
That said, Gravy doesn’t use its humor to soft-pedal the horror content: despite the whimsical mood, it’s still the kind of movie that features throat-biting, dismemberment and a scalding-soup facial. The third act in particular is rousing stuff, with intercut skirmishes between various tormentors and survivors mixing the laughs with plenty of the red stuff. Roday seems to have as much fun with the bloodshed as he does with the script’s fast, witty dialogue and the result is a sanguinary comedy that manages to be cute even as it chops up its characters. The film’s one minor mistake is a coda that doesn’t quite live up to the finale that proceeds it but the finale is good enough to make the trip worth taking.
This odd blend of grue and guffaws plays well because it boasts a game, energetic cast. Foster, a Tony-winning veteran of the stage, brings a sly sense of humor to what is essentially a “final girl” role and the trio of cannibals give her amusing personalities to bounce off of: Simpson handles reams of dialogue with speed and wit, Weston plays dumb with skill as the dolt of the group and Cole has a ball as a cannibalistic mean girl. The supporting cast all get room to shine, with Lothaire Bluteau stealing some scenes as a French chef pressed into cooking for the villains and Molly Ephraim as a neurotic party girl crew member who goes ballistic in high style. Starwatchers will also want to look for fun turns from Paul Rodriguez, Gabourey Sidibe and Sarah Silverman in a cutesy framing sequence.
In short, Gravy is the rare independent effort that might appeal to comedy lovers and horror fans alike. It’s surprising that Roday would spend his free time on such an oddball effort but the results are more entertaining and unique than a lot of between t.v. gigs films.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory has done the honors for this title’s home video debut and the results are a nice little blu-ray edition. The transfer does well by the film’s digital imagery, capturing the shadowy interiors with depth while bringing out the colorful set design and lighting. Both 5.1 and 2.0 lossless stereo tracks are included. The 5.1 track was used for this review and it’s a vivid presentation, though the pop songs are sometimes mixed a bit too loudly.
A few extras are included. A commentary track with Roday, Simpson and Foster kicks things off. It’s a relaxed and jokey track that devotes a lot of time to deadpan cutting-up but there are a few fun anecdotes about the cast and the budget-conscious shoot sprinkled in. “What Is Gravy?” is a 6-minute video segment with the same participants from the commentary offering a few off-the-cuff comments intercut with some clips from the film. An EPK runs the same length and allows the crew to offer up some comments amidst clips of behind-the-scenes footage. A trailer closes things out: it’s a fast, funny spot that plays up the film’s macabre sense of humor.