Sunday, October 4, 2015

James Roday's Gravy

Cody has a palate for a horror/comedy that will be on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD on October 6th.

Millions of people probably know James Roday for playing Shawn Spencer on the mystery/comedy TV show Psych. I have never seen a single episode of Psych, and although I have apparently seen Roday on an episode of Fear Itself and in Jay Chandrasekhar's 2005 take on The Dukes of Hazzard (how can that movie be ten years old already?), I really only know Roday for one thing: he is apparently a huge fan of horror, with a special place in his heart for the Friday the 13th franchise. He even showed up in the "I love F13" documentary His Name Was Jason.

As such, when I heard that his feature directorial debut Gravy was a horror/comedy, it made total sense to me. And since he has an affinity for my beloved F13, I was looking forward to seeing what his contribution to the horror genre would be like.

The film begins with a meet-cute. Anson (Michael Weston) stops by a convenience store to get some ice cream and soon he's connecting in a totally adorable way with the clerk, played by Sarah Silverman. Anson seems like such a nice, fun guy, he must surely be our protagonist, right? Something terrible is going to happen and he will be our hero.

That's not the case. This opening scene is pretty much the last time Anson will seem like a good guy. It's a wonderful subversion of expectations when he turns out to be one of the film's villains.

You see, Anson and his brother Stef (Jimmi Simpson) have a tradition. Every year on Halloween, they capture a group of people, put them through a night of torment, kill them, have them cooked into a tasty feast, and gorge themselves on human flesh.

This year, Anson and Stef have chosen to raid a Mexican restaurant called Raoul's and replace the food on the menu with the meat of the staff: Paul Rodriguez as Chuy, Sutton Foster as Kerry, Molly Ephraim as Cricket, Gabriel Luna as Hector, Lothaire Bluteau as Yannick, and Gabourey Sidibe as Winketta. There's also a dude named Bert (Ethan Sandler) running around.

As Anson and Stef play games with their captives to decide the order in which they'll be killed and cooked into a delicious meal by chef Yannick, the captives are, of course, trying to figure out a way to escape from their predicament. The cannibals are also dealing with trouble in their own ranks, because Anson is upset that Stef has brought his girlfriend Mimi (Lily Cole) into their tradition and she's a maniac who sucks at playing by the rules and sticking to the script.

Gravy deals with horrific subject matter and is packed with murder and bloodshed, but Roday leans most heavily on the comedy side of the horror/comedy mix, with a humor that totally appealed to me. The characters are fun and quirky, and the script by Roday and Todd Harthan is clever and well written, with some great dialogue.

The unique humor of the film is enhanced by some of the oddest music cues I've ever come across. It's like Roday picked the needledrop songs just by putting his music player on random shuffle for a while and tossing whatever came up into the film.

The cast Roday assembled is fantastic, with Weston really shining, good guy or not. One thing about Anson's storyline seemed strange to me, however. The fact that the character is so successfully wooed by Kerry (her survival tactic) after that awesome opening with Silverman. I guess finding love is especially tough when you're a cannibal sociopath, you need to keep the romantic feelers out at all times.

I did find that Gravy started to lose its steam as it neared its conclusion, but for most of the running time it was a very enjoyable ride. It's a great start for Roday's film directing career and a welcome addition to both the horror and comedy genres.

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