I think the average horror fan is just as fascinated by cannibals as they are repulsed by them. If it were simply a matter of disgust, I don’t think there would nearly many films and books dedicated to the subject (as opposed to, say, necrophilia…yuk), as just one really nasty example would suffice. No, I think fans of this notorious-yet-increasingly-mainstream-sub-genre are equally disturbed and enthralled by this most taboo of human endeavors. There’s something so frighteningly primal about one human consuming the flesh of another, but, at the same time, there’s a sickening intimacy to the act , and filmmakers have long sought to exploit that in everything from romance to musicals to comedies.
In the end, however, it always comes full circle, back to the most conventional and, perhaps, most intimate act of all; our need to feed. People will generally eat anything if it looks and tastes good, and, for the most part, could care less what’s in it. For evidence of that, look no further than your nearest fast food joint or kabob stand, or, in the case of Gregory Mandry’s "Gnaw", the welcoming spread of vittles laid out on the dinner table of your holiday retreat.
A group of friends head off into the English countryside for a weekend of drink and debauchery at a remote estate. When the young folk arrive, they are welcomed by a glorious bounty of foodstuffs, and, soon, they are munching on everything from steak and kidney pies to Cornish pasties, blissfully unaware that the goodies they are gorging on are actually the bits and bobs of previous guests butchered by their hosts. One by one, our vacationers find themselves picked off by a masked butcher, and serving as that evening’s main course. And…well…that’s about it.
Gnaw obviously aspires to be the British answer to Hostel and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but, sadly, lacks the former’s sense of humor or the latter’s ability to scare. The result is a film that is little more than a series of killings loosely strung together by a barely-there plot that’s so unforgivably mundane and cliché ridden that, by the time the second act rolled around, I’d not only felt as though I’d seen it all before, but was certain that I'd seen it done better. Usually low-budget films make up for their lack of production values with heaps of over-the-top gore to make things interesting, but the violence in Gnaw is oddly civilized. The kills are rather unimaginative and, surprisingly, not all that graphic. I’m not sure if this was a result of budgetary restraints or artistic decision, but the death scenes amount to little more than quick cuts of blackish blood, some costume shop severed limb props, and fades to black when anything remotely nasty seems imminent.
On the plus side, Gnaw does feature some strong performances from the cast of unknowns, with Sara Dylan turning in the best of the lot as the perpetually unsettled Lorrie. I was also fairly impressed with the polished look of the film overall, as director, Mandry, makes the most of his tiny budget and amps up tension and atmosphere where Michael Bell’s somewhat plodding script fails to. This, at the very least, makes Gnaw a somewhat interesting visual experience, but it’s still just another mediocre entry into an already overcrowded genre.
MPI/Dark Sky deliver Gnaw with a relatively well-stocked DVD, including a short making-of documentary, a feature-length commentary by Gregory Mandry, and trailer. The film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, with a suitably murky and grainy transfer that’s in step with the visual style of the movie. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a bit uneven, with the occasional bout of low-mixed dialogue and an overall lack of “punch”, but, once again, I reckon that has more to do with the film’s meager budget than anything else.
Gnaw isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just a completely forgettable one that borrows so heavily from other films in the genre that it fails to establish an identity of its own. It’s too bad, as there are certainly flashes of true talent on display, here, but the flimsy story, lack of any genuine scares, and surprisingly restrained violence will have cannibal fans wishing Gnaw had given them something of more substance to chew on.