The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - FEED THE DEVIL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - FEED THE DEVIL

A search for a marijuana crop leads to a fight for survival against malevolent woodland spirits.

Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Max Perrier

Starring: Jared Cohn, Ardis Barrow, Victoria Curtain, Brandon Perrault

With its meticulous and striking designs and colourful characters, there is a lot to recommend here. Like its hapless protagonist, Feed the Devil’s ambition may outreach its grasp, but it does so with a determination to entertain and to fully explore its initial promise.

Feed the Devil is available on VOD from August 2nd 2016.

In European folklore the woods are a realm enchanted, a shadowed expanse where monsters lurk, and magic still flourishes far away from the artificial hierarchies of the town: Snow White seeks redemption in the company of magical elves, and Red Riding Hood’s courage is determined within this eerie threshold. However, in folklore’s cross-Atlantic equivalent, American pop culture, the opposite abides. While these woods also house monsters, the swelling forestry of the East is representative of an abject lack of progress; a forbidding scrub holding out from civilisation, which the pioneering spirit never quite reached and where comity is broken down (like in that great American fairy tale, The Evil Dead, where Ash systematically has his goofy everydayisms gorily eroded before he can fight back against the things from the trees). It’s a theme that cinema keeps returning to as well; witness the recent excellent surprise that Adam Wingard’s mysterious new film is in fact, a sequel to ne plus ultra wood-horror The Blair Witch Project. In a country with minimal history and masses of wilderness, the unconquered woods and its unkempt populace hold nightmarish sway, being an affront to Manifest Destiny itself; the American Dream’s nightmare shadow.

Take the opening sequence of Matthew Altman and Max Perrier’s Feed the Devil (and, even if you haven’t seen the film, trust me, you’ve seen this opening, with its emblematic insistence, somewhere or other before). The iconography is pure redneck; a young woman who looks as if she’s had a hard life, with her ratty blonde hair and cheap clothes, sucks beer through a scowl, as, somewhere in the darkened woods, her companions, a couple of pot-bellied, middle aged saddoes with trucker caps and rifles shoot at a bear. But, murhahaha, before you can say close up tight denim derriere shot homage to Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the hunters have become the hunted, and something, or someone, has made short work of our cowardly trio. Familiar territory, if not for the victims then the audience. Efficiently shot as it is, the typicality of this outset is not, however, characteristic of the rest of this strange and compelling film. It’s as if director Perrier wanted to show that he could tread the same path that a few Wrong Turns have tracked before, but has consciously decided not to, instead creating something that, while not wholly successful, is nonetheless a stylish and more original horror than the average woodsploitation.

We cut to Marcus, the sort of avaricious chump that propels the narrative of a Coen Brothers film. Played with a temper by Jared Cohn (who reminds me a little of renowned British stage actor Danny Dyer), Marcus has drawn life’s short straw. His white trash mom has sold all of her grown adult son’s stuff, and beats him half to death with a mop handle when he tries to steal some cash back. But when an old head smuggles Marcus a map with directions to a golden crop of marijuana somewhere far in the forests (and, helpfully, outlines the difference between Sativa and Indica strains in an early indication of Feed the Devil’s winning attention to the details), Marcus’ own pioneer spirit is awakened, and off he trucks with his gf Stella (Victoria Curtain), and disaffected teenage stowaway Lydia (Ardis Barrow, playing Stella’s sister), to find his fortune in the great woody yonder.

Of course, before long, the woods and their myriad of threats have claimed Stella, leaving appealingly odd couple Lydia and Marcus to search for her, and the precious wacky tobacky. Marcus is an intriguing protagonist, revealed as more self-regarding and useless as the film progresses, a man whose ambition is outdone by his greed and general idiocy - his response to discovering an ominous dead stag blocking their path is to cut off the poor steed’s head, an unearned trophy. An abiding characteristic of woodsploitation is that, as the terrain gets tougher, the protagonist becomes less and less urbane, ultimately infected by the very savagery that characterises the surroundings: Marcus is a bit of a sleaze to begin with, and yet under the copse his ethics twist even darker. As a more moral character, Lydia provides a satisfying foil to Marcus, and it is she who is more conscious of the film’s weird, growing dread. The character dynamic that Feed the Devil builds is fresh, and certainly unusual for this sort of pedigree. And when the horror does begin in earnest and the wood’s creepy denizens put the two through their paces - with scenes involving tribal ghouls cinematically emerging from the black mud beneath the mismatched pairs’ feet, as they stare up in horror at the stripped skeletons of previous victims - the visual panache of this film impresses too.

As stated, the film isn’t wholly successful: the death of a certain character before the final reel robs the film of its previously well maintained energy, and, really, the film drags in its last 20 or so minutes. However, with its meticulous and striking designs – the maleficent tribe’s wooden torture chambers are a triumph of sadistic engineering - and colourful characters, there is a lot to recommend here. Like its hapless protagonist, Feed the Devil’s ambition may outreach its grasp, but it does so with a determination to entertain and to fully explore its initial promise.