“GRAVY” (Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
As many horror fans know, horror comedies can be a tricky tonal tightrope to walk as there’s so many things to be considered. On the comedy side, the material needs to be funny, organic to the scary situations on display and respectful of the genre, lest you fall too far into the even trickier realm of genre parody. On the horror side, the material needs to be able to jump into comedy effectively and naturally while deciding how it will work in relation to audience expectations, either working towards genre tropes to set up the humor or work with the humor to subvert expectations. However, even if the horror and the comedy doesn’t quite jive, a strong cast, funny dialogue and messy practical effects can buy much good will, which is largely why James Roday’s directorial debut GRAVY works as well as it does.
From the work on display, there’s no denying that Roday is a horror hound, unafraid to get very dark and very bloody with his more-comedy-than-horror GRAVY when need be. Roday’s film is chaotic in nature, with sardonic wit serving as the connective tissue between many of the film’s subplots, most of which come to an unresolved and abrupt yet gruesome end throughout GRAVY. But GRAVY has a natural charm among its cast, with Roday’s passion for irreverent comedy, disgusting practical FX and bizarre plot turns fueling their already strong performances.
For those unfamiliar, GRAVY follows the diverse staff of a Mexican Restaurant on Halloween, all of whom stay until the closing hours. However, after investigating a strange noise, they find themselves at the mercy of a trio of eccentric cannibals, who force them to play games in order to keep themselves off the menu. And over the course of the night, the cannibals slowly lose their grip on the survivors, leading a psychotic, bloody stand-off in which no one escapes unscathed.
While the script contains some hilarious exchanges and character quirks, the script from Roday and co-writer Todd Harthan’s is mostly hurt by its frenetic attention span, which prevents the film from letting the crazy, carnivorous action play out naturally in favor to deliver a quick punchline. However, Roday’s talent as a director is certainly not to be understated, handling his actors, the effects and the staging of the action incredibly well. And the FX on display, crafted by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger of KNB, is genuinely impressive and shocking in nature as its unexpectedly graphic in the face of the perpetual levity in the comedy.
As mentioned previously, GRAVY relies heavily on its excellent cast, all of whom deliver on the film’s somewhat ridiculous premise. Jimmi Simpson, Michael Weston and Lily Cole are fantastic and funny as the antagonists of the film, with the rapport and chemistry between the three really selling both their demented depravity as well as their likeable humanity. Meanwhile, Sutton Foster, Molly Ephraim, Gabourey Sidibe, Gabriel Luna, Paul Rodriguez and Ethan Sandler are rather great as the victims in GRAVY, while Sarah Silverman pops up in a cheerful bookending cameo. However, the show is almost completely stolen by Lothaire Bluteau, whose turn as the bitter and ballsy chef in the petrifying position of cooking his own friends is hilarious, venomous and even a bit tragic.
Overall, while GRAVY could have benefited from a stronger throughline narrative, Roday’s debut as a genre director is promising and enjoyable from start to finish. With a great ensemble, a top tier FX company behind him and a confident approach to a rather bizarre premise, GRAVY is a good, often gross time that both genre and comedy fans are sure to enjoy. And luckily, Roday sticks to his guns throughout, unafraid to dispatch characters in gory ways at a moments notice, giving GRAVY a mean streak that some might not immediately see coming.