Pass the edge of the woods, located on the outskirts of an unnamed European country, and you will find a large house. Inside, an institute dedicated to sponsoring artists who deal with “culinary and food performances” has been set up. Its mission: to provide a safe space for those who push the boundaries of good taste, literal or otherwise. The head of the informal organization, Jan Stevens (game of thrones‘ Gwendoline Christie), is currently offering residency to a trio led by Elle di Elle (Fatma Mohamed), a woman who is dedicated to confronting the patriarchy one cutting-edge kitchen-based protest piece at a time. She temporarily dubbed her collective “Her and Gastric Ulcers”, until she could come up with a better name.
She and fellow band members Billy (Asa Butterfield) and Lamina (Ariane Labed) hatch an elaborate project involving mixing desks, microphones placed in simmering pots, writhing naked on the floor, and some kind of sauce to tomato base. During the day, the three performers participate in exercises that have them simulate grocery shopping while Jan coos ASMR storytelling. In the evening after dinner, residents read period cooking manuals or regale those present with personal anecdotes. If someone’s current work performance is going well, everyone pays ‘tribute’, which is a fancy way of saying ‘orgy’. Meanwhile, a rejected collective known as Snack Mongrels plots something sinister against the institute. And writing it all down for posterity is a writer (Makis Papadimitriou) who struggles to concentrate on the task at hand, with his intense acid reflux and very gassy medical issues….
Since releasing the disturbing rape revenge thriller Katalin Varga to unsuspecting audiences in 2009, British filmmaker Peter Strickland has settled comfortably on the fringes of modern Eurosploitation, deconstructing the unsavory genres of the distant past like a DJ mixing beat breaks. For him, there are few titles more prized than “cult filmmaker”, and you get the sense that Strickland is in constant conversation with the ghosts of the fodder past. Take a liking to her brand of weird and fetish holds giallo stylization and Grand Guignol portraits of psychological breakdowns, and you start to crave it. What a baroque dialogue! So many outrageous fashion choices! So many creepy-quote 70s horror movie cliches, all dabbed by a true obsession with retrograde pulp and a devoted passion for military-grade kink!
You will need to have already developed that appetite for what Strickland cooks up to get into Gourmet Feed, however, that can be seen in part as a satirical jab at the relationship between patrons of the arts and those who practice their craft according to the financially subscribed whims of those people. It’s also one of his signature hallucinogenic stews, stirring dissonant synthesizer noodles, submissive/dominant relationships, and a decent amount of sleaze.
Direct references to past high points of lowbrow cinema are kept to a minimum here (in the press notes he attributes his main influences to the Viennese Actionist movement, Marcel Marceau, the films of Robert Bresson and It’s Spinal Tap). So does a lot of the usual cheap thrills that Strickland’s work gives you, as this kitchen creepfest feels a little blurry, even by the filmmaker’s dreamlike, self-aware standards. Dive into something like Berber sound studio (2012) or The Duke of Burgundy (2014) – still the greatest love story to ever feature the “human toilet” haggle accoutrements – and you can see how the mood bleeds into character motivations and descents into madness. This latest attempt seems to lack a few key ingredients in that regard.
And yet: below Strickland’s average, it’s better than many modern cult filmmakers’ digs into midnight movie madness. So you can sample a screwed-up four-course gastro-horror meal, blessed with plenty of mortality anxiety and a scene involving the “chocolate” smearing that would whitewash Karen Finley. Add to that Christie’s cracking take on authority figures defeated by lust, Butterfield’s loose hair as a visual gag, and the use of a colonoscopy as performance art that comes close to being poignant, and you will always get your money’s worth. (That would make a great second half for a double bill with crimes of the future, (assuming you have a stronger stomach than the film’s in-house scribe.) It’s not the best introduction to Strickland’s work, which really channels decades of cinematic psychotronics into something deliberately personal and perverse. If you already count yourself among the faithful: Consider your dinner served.