It’s the rare bit of horror that aspires to haute cuisine, and while “Bitter Feast” is accented with the occasional arterial geyser and McNugget-sized chunk of human flesh, it’s really gore for the gourmet. First-rate performances by James Le Gros and Joshua Leonard, some novel tweaks to the standard revenge recipe and what may be cinema’s first torture-porn abuse of a blogger lend this Joe Maggio-helmed thriller enough humor to complement its bloodlust. If marketing is executed with the proper panache, “Feast” could perform B.O. cookery.
Serving up that famous dish best served cold is Peter Grey (Le Gros), who hosts “The Feast,” a delicious parody of a Food Network show — one Peter thinks is supposed to be about green markets and sustainable foods, and his channel thinks is supposed to be about ratings. Saddled with an unctuously unfunny comic sidekick, Peg (Megan Hilty), and told audiences don’t really want to learn anything, Peter has one foot out the door when a food blogger named T.J. Franks (Leonard) trashes Peter’s restaurant online. Peter is fired by his boss (former Food Network personality Mario Batali, whose cameo seems pointedly sarcastic), his show is canceled, and soon Peter — who, as glimpsed in flashbacks, had a rather troubled childhood — decides to kidnap T.J. and basically run him through the meat grinder.
Helmer Maggio reveals a fluency in the horror-genre vocabulary while also translating it to his own twisted ends. He’s said that “Bitter Feast” was inspired by what he saw as an unfair New York Times review of chef/martinet Gordon Ramsay (as if such a thing were possible), but Peter is much more suggestive of Alton Brown, host of “Good Eats,” the last really instructive program on Food Network. For all his soup-to-nuttiness, Peter is actually the sympathetic character here; T.J. is one seriously unpalatable dude (Leonard is perfectly vile), although he is, at the same time, a fantasy figure: a food blogger who could close a restaurant? Don’t think so.
But such are the topical grace notes of “Bitter Feast,” which might have contented itself with being just another thriller, but instead blends celebrity psychology, media criticism and basic cuisine (what’s your definition of an over-easy egg?) while also fusing Emeril Legasse and Norman Bates. Larry Fessenden certainly seems to be channeling Martin Balsam as a private eye who goes sniffing around Peter’s remote New York State home in search of the missing T.J., and there’s a bit of Vera Miles in the blogger’s wife (Amy Semietz) as she’s dragged into the nonfeeding frenzy. Fessenden, whose own directorial efforts have included the vampire-addiction pic “Habit” and the unnerving eco-anxiety chiller “The Last Winter,” has geared production shingle Glass Eye Pix toward a hybrid of intellectual and visceral horror, and “Feast” is a prime example.
It’s also funny: When T.J., tied up like a dog, runs out his chain trying to get at Peter’s throat, you can see it coming a mile away and you still laugh. There are some implausibilities to the whole chef-vs. food-blogger setup, such as the idea that T.J. would post his picture on his site and actually take notes while reviewing a restaurant (as the staff virtually genuflects around him).
Tech credits are tops, notably Jeff Grace’s score and its recurrent themes, and the beautiful work of d.p. Michael McDonough (“Winter’s Bone”).