A group of strangers banding together to fight a relentless evil is nothing new in the horror genre. There have been many great movies made in that vein (i.e. From Dusk Till Dawn, Demon Knight, etc.) so I thought it was pretty difficult to inject fresh blood into a worn out story. That’s where a little film called Feast proved me wrong.
Directed by John Gulager and written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, Feast was a Project Greenlight winner. Not exactly the pedigree you’d expect for a gore splattered horror film. Somehow the creators of Feast were able to pull off an original film by taking all the assumptions an audience typically makes with horror films and turning them on their head.
For those of us writing horror stories or even horror films *raises hand*, Feast is a solid example of how knowing the rules allows you build an engaging film and then lets you screw with the audience in all the right places.
This is an unavoidable fact of movie making. It’s a constant struggle between keeping the momentum going and divulging the story to the audience. Blake Snyder, of Save the Cat fame, recommended using the “Pope in the Pool” technique which was to provide something visually intriguing to the audience while also slipping the exposition into the scene. Feast nailed this perfectly by providing quick title cards which added a touch of style, a touch of humor and some fantastic misdirection. The writers definitely thought “outside the box” (Rollins would approve) when dealing with backstory.
If you’re struggling with lengthy plot explanations try to fold them into action scenes or have them interrupted by something else once enough detail has been given to provide a hook. You could even leave certain threads hanging (i.e. where the Feast monsters came from) to give viewers a reason to tune into the sequel. Also think about mocking convention to give the story a unique feel. Austin Powers parodied exposition by creating a character who’s sole point was exposition. It was even his last name.
Use the Audience’s Expectations Against Them
Trope: a convention or device used in a creative work. The horror genre is busting at the seams with tropes, from the ever popular Kill It with Fire to the painfully predictable Virgin Power. Most people can watch the first 15 minutes of any horror film and determine who lives and who dies. Feast used these expectations to make plot twists that not only shocked the viewer into paying closer attention, but also had great comedic effect. The heroes in Feast especially suffered at the hands of these twists.
You can interchange the word trope with cliché. Don’t let the usual trappings of your genre lull you into using well worn characters or plot devices. Throwing a monkey wrench into the viewer’s expectations lets them immediately know your story is something different and can help make your plot richer by venturing into new territory, but don’t twist for the sake of a twist. Being clever is not the same thing as having a good story. Think The Sixth Sense vs. M. Night’s later efforts.
Delay the Reveal
Anticipation and imagination are powerful things. When you get someone’s wheels turning they’ll work themselves into a lather better than anything you can throw on the screen. People were shocked by the ultra violence of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs especially the scene where Michael Madsen cuts off a cop’s ear, but if you really think about the scene nothing happened at all. You never saw anything occur and yet that one scene worked people into a frenzy. Same goes for Scarface’s chainsaw scene in the beginning of the film. Cuban exiles picketed the film and forced the production to move to LA based on that scene yet it was also never shown on screen. Both of these intense moments were fabricated using sounds and the audience’s imagination against themselves. No amount of CGI or special effects could ever replicate that intensity.
Feast builds anticipation like nobody’s business. From the moment the hero bursts into the bar you know shit is going to hit the fan. The creatures attack, kill and terrorize, but you barely see them. The fear of the unknown works well against the characters and the audience. Misdirection is even used by the creatures wearing pelts or by having smaller sized versions infiltrate first. When the monsters are fully exposed there’s so much going on in the scene that you don’t have time to process it, you just hold onto your seat as the characters fight for their lives.
Feast wasn’t a overnight blockbuster, but it has garnered a strong cult following. It showed us how a typical horror film was elevated to the next level by knowing your genre well enough to be able to pervert its conventions. This made for a much more enjoyable movie than compared to other flicks with similar budgets. When you think there’s nothing new under the sun, seek out hidden gems like Feast and draw inspiration from them. It may give your next project the push it needs to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack.