The reality TV series "Project Greenlight," in its first two seasons on HBO, operated primarily as a crash course in low-budget indie filmmaking mistakes. With producers Chris Moore, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon selecting first-time directors and screenwriters from a large pool of contestants, neither of the first two resulting films (2002's Stolen Summer and 2003's The Battle of Shaker Heights), both mild coming-of-age pap for boutique studio Miramax, looked like they would be nearly as interesting as the TV series documenting their difficult productions. For its third season "Project Greenlight" moved down the cable hierarchy to Bravo, and the producers likewise ditched their inclination toward festival-fare, adding horror producer Wes Craven to the mix, and aligning with the more commercially-oriented Miramax spin-off studio Dimension. Picking the winners of this third project, the producers split with the studio on both screenplay and director, with Dimension forcing through a marketable horror screenplay (by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton) that sent Damon into indignant elitist hissy fits, and the producing team responding by assigning directorial duties to longshot John Gulager, an introverted 46-year-old camerman with a knockout reel but the self-esteem of a hairbrush. By the end of the first few production-oriented episodes of the series, the project looked absolutely hopeless, devoid of vision, saddled with a despondent director at odds with everyone, and hamstrung by a studio wary of disaster.
If "Project Greenlight" ever spawns a hit, Feast deserves first bite. A gory, funny monster siege movie in the mold of Evil Dead and From Dusk 'Til Dawn, it is an energetic and thoroughly worthwhile exemplification of its genre, proving Gulager a most surprising (and very possibly extremely lucky) first-time success story. Feast plants a miserable group of strangers in an out-of-the-way desert bar and surrounds them with mysterious, vicious, flesh-hungry creatures. From the opening scenes, Gulager shows an easy command of both horror stylistics and sharp comic timing, even though his initially fun introductory gimmick with each character in the ensemble freeze-framed for exposition with "fun facts" and personalized music cues drags on a little too long (which, in itself, may have been a structural gag that works in concept only, but one suspects it was more an effort to bump up Feast's just-slight 92-minute running time). However, while most genre pictures quickly slip into a by-the-numbers creative coma, after this merely amusing stutter Feast fiercely sprints non-stop through scene-after-scene of bracing, arch, gruesome, ruthless, and exciting set-pieces that never let down. At times, action scenes in Feast are so quick and chaotic they are nearly impossible for viewers to discern in real-time, but the narrative itself excuses this flaw, and it never derails the relentless fun.
Despite the well-documented casting tussles, every actor succeeds in style. Across-the-board, the terrific (and surprisingly expendable) performers make the most of the movie's gut-soaked shtick without straying outside the bounds of playing it straight. Skewering preconceptions with post-Buffy aggression, Feast's women consistently out-ball the bar's hapless male meat. Navi Rawat ("The O.C."), Krista Allen ("Baywatch"), and Jenny Wade balance sex appeal with heroine-ism, not only succeeding in giving Feast a surprising dash of heart, but also making mockeries out of the self-centered chumps played by Eric Dane, Balthazar Getty, Judah Friedlander, Duane Whitaker, and Henry Rollins (the former Black Flag screamer who, as a sign of the movie's fearless humor, wears pink sweat pants throughout the bloody climax). Also with Josh Zuckerman, Eileen Ryan, Clu Gulager (the veteran actor-dad of director John), and Jason Mewes.
* * *
Although it bears all the quality of the hit that could deservedly salvage the whole Project Greenlight enterprise, Feast has been caught in an inter-studio power struggle and may never see wide theatrical release. The Weinstein Company's DVD release offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The feature is accompanied by a group commentary from Gulager, writers Dunstan and Melton, producers Mike Leahy and Joel Soisson, and effects artist Gary Tunnicliffe, and offers very little inside dirt on the controversies of the TV series. Also on board are the featurettes "Horror Under the Spotlight: Making Feast" and "The Blood and Guts of Gary Tunnicliffe," five deleted scenes, and outtakes. Keep-case.