Brett Leonard's new psycho-sexual thriller, "Feed", is utterly uncompromising in its desire to provoke disgust, but equally relentless in its mission to pursue and highlight the intellectual and moral conundrums thrown up by its bizarre subject matter. The rise of the internet has enabled the development of a dizzying array of virtual communities; and this has spawned an inevitable challenge to social norms and conventional values, as unusual people with some unusual proclivities can now escape isolation and find each-other in cyberspace with relative ease, forming relationships that threaten to undermine the consensus that allows society to govern accepted 'rights and wrongs'. A whole digital pandora's box has been opened up and it is the perception of a resulting moral confusion that forms the subject matter of "Feed".
Taking the over-familiar forms of the modern thriller, from "Psycho" to "Silence of the Lambs" and attempting to subvert them with a heavy dose of Lynchian irony (particularly evident in the choice of music on the soundtrack which utilises several examples of cheesy, candy-floss pop from the sixties and early-seventies to provoke a darkly comedic tone in material that might normally be presented as straight-faced thriller fare), "Feed" often falls back too readily on well-worn plot mechanics, but just about manages to keep its head above water thanks to this strange, cynical tone and the relentless pace of the final act with its unexpected (comically ridiculous) denouement.
Patrick Thompson plays hard-boiled, Australian cyber-crime investigator Philip Jackson. Trapped in a dysfunctional "modern relationship" with his bisexual, nymphomaniac girlfriend Abbey (Rose Ashton), Jackson has just come off a traumatic case involving cannibalism by mutual consent arranged over the internet, and is looking for the next big case to boost his career. He finds a web-site called FeederX.com which is concerned with the true life phenomena of "Feeders" and "Gainers ": fat-admiring men who assist obese women to get fatter for their mutual sexual gratification. The site displays web-cam footage of a six-hundred pound woman, immobile on a tatty bed, being force-fed and regularly weighed by a fit, naked, young blonde-haired man. Although both parties are consenting adults in this strange arrangement, Jackson senses something sinister behind the web-site after learning on a message board that a previous "Gainer" called Lucy mysteriously disappeared from the site. He tracks down the location of the footage and sets out for Toledo, Ohio in the U.S. -- despite being warned off the case by his superior -- using his computer-hacking skills to track down the person behind FeederX.com, who turns out to be a happily married man called Michael (Alex O' Lachlan) who also houses a willing, grotesquely obese woman called Deirdre in a garish, pink-walled, crimson-cushioned womb-like bedroom in his mother's old house, from which he broadcasts himself masturbating over the internet as he bulk feeds the woman fatty cheese burgers! But Michael, in a well rehearsed twist familiar to the psycho-thriller genre, turns out to be aware of Philip's obsessive monitoring of his activities and he soon draws the ailing, alcoholic cop into a bizarre game of cat & mouse, all the while exploiting his pursuer's own neuroses and dysfunctional sexuality.
From the beginning the viewer is induced to draw parallels between the relationship of Michael and Deirdre and that of Philip and Abby -- and neither seem particularly healthy, even though Philip's is the more conventional. The film takes a scatter-gun approach to its varying issues, from Western society's media-driven obsession with body-image (is the relentless promotion of unnaturally thin super-models any more freakish than the activities of the "Feeders" and "Gainers"?) to the levelling effects of globalised U.S. culture; not to mention fad-diets and the moral grey areas involved in the assisted self-harm portrayed in the film -- but there are never any firm answers served up on a plate (sorry!) for the viewer. The one issue director Brett Leonard is consistently keen to promote though is his conviction that these moral ambiguities make the concept of a hero untenable. Indeed, even though, as the film progresses, it takes an increasingly standard approach to its material, and eventually develops along rather clichéd thriller lines (the antagonist's psychology is even explained with reference to a typical Norman Bates-style mother fixation) with Michael using his web-site for some even more questionable activities that appear to justify Philip's obsession with bringing him to justice, the cop's motives are always undermined until one can barely see him as being any better or different than the man he pursues. Both men are really different sides of the same coin -- a conclusion backed-up by the film's weird ending.
Although the film's screenplay is only partially successful in dealing with all these issues, Leonard is extremely deft in utilising the glassy immediacy of the HD cameras and shift-tilt lenses to create a raw, American reality show aesthetic full of garish high-contrast colours, further compounded by the choice of a hyperactive editing style that ruthlessly mimics the short attention-span, constant recap style of modern TV docu-soap. There are touches of ironic Lynchian strangeness and a final act that pays homage to the devastating portrayal of extreme psychological states contained in Tobe Hopper's "Texas Chain Saw Massacre "; and, of course, many scenes calculated to make the viewer loose his/her lunch. In short, "Feed" is a sure fire cult item with enough gross-out moments interlaced with thought-provoking ideas and concepts to keep fans of the offbeat and the unusual well fed for some time.
The UK DVD from Showbox Entertainment presents a decent anamorphic transfer with 5.1 and stereo audio tracks as well as a fairly detailed director's commentary which covers a lot of ground on both the technical side of the filmmaking process and the conceptual side, concerning the subject matter and what the director wished to achieve with the film. There is also a fair complement of other extras on the disc including an alternative ending sequence; deleted scenes which fill in several plot holes and subplots that had to be omitted for running time reasons (all with optional director's commentary); short video interviews with actor/producer Jack Thompson and director Brett Leonard; and "making of" footage which includes the sculpting and fitting of the fat suit for actress, Gabby Millgate. Finally, a bizarre "infomercial" which sees Gabby Millgate and Rose Ashton acting out a scene from "Mulholland Drive", with Millgate in her fat-suit and Ashton in her underwear, is also a rather amusing little extra.
"Feed" is well worth a look and provides some extreme tour-de-force acting opportunities for its central three actors Thompson, Millgate and O' Lachlan. Those with a weak stomach may want to think twice though.