Novella McClure is like most struggling actresses in Los Angeles: she’s in her early 30s, her fake name sounded cooler ten years ago, and she hasn’t landed a role in three years. To top it all off, she’s developed a disturbing habit of eating her own flesh. Novella desperately tries to hide her strange condition from her motherly landlord, Eesha, and somewhat psychopathic best friend, Candice, but her body and mind continue to deteriorate in the depressing world of failed auditions and sketchy night clubs. Can a romantic relationship with her psychiatrist prevent her from self destruction? Or will her fatal habit continue to eat away at her?
I can handle most things in horror, from lobbed limbs to showers of bodily fluids. It’s all make believe at the end of the day, isn’t it? Escapism, if you will. However, give me a scene where someone starts stripping away at flesh or popping off a toe nail and I’ll cringe. I’m talking about full lip puckering cringing. I think it’s the emphatic nature in me. I know how it feels to stub my toe, so by transference someone pulling off the whole thing must be black-out horrific.
Eat, the debut feature from Jimmy Weber (Incubator), took me to the next level. Without hyperbole or Buzzfeed clickbait exaggeration, I can confidently say to you dear reader, that Eat made me nearly lose my lunch. And I’ve seen Thanatomorphose.
In some ways, Eat can be seen as a companion piece to last year’s Starry Eyes, though perhaps not as subtle. Meggie Maddock (Flock) plays the wonderfully named Novella McClure, a struggling actress living in LA. Her daily routine consists of auditions, fighting with her fellow actresses and appealing to her landlord’s better nature in order to get out of paying the rent. Novella is shouting, but Hollywood isn’t listening. Her only solace is her regular nights out with self-absorbed best friend Candice (Ali Francis), with whom she dupes men into giving them free drinks.
It’s apparent that Novella’s cycle of stress, aggression and heavy drinking is doing her no favors. Things come to a head when Novella is tricked into auditioning for a P*rno and, upon returning home humiliated, finds an eviction notice pinned to her door. Her stress and anger at the world explodes from whatever hidey-hole it was buried within and Novella starts to self-harm. And by self-harm, I mean chowing down on her wrists like they were Kentucky Fried Chicken. And so begins Novella’s only way of staying in control in a world where she feels she has none.
Whilst things do soon start going her way when she meets a dreamy psychiatrist, Novella struggles to overcome her desire to consume her own flesh leading to amongst other things a particularly gruesome scene that will put people with foot fetishes off for a week. Like any eating disorder, her illness/desire begins to consume her as she tries to hide her nefarious appetite from her new beau and Candice.
Eat’s special effects are horrifically grim, which is kind of what you want in a film like this. The oozing and bloody flesh is accentuated by the sounds of lip-smacking and slurping, and the sight of claret splash upon Maddock’s porcelain skin. In addition, Weber manages to eke out as much tension as he can from the scenes of self-cannibalism. The problems come from some leaps of logic Eat asks us to make outside of Novella’s predicament.
A night out with Candice sees two men brutally assaulted, but despite the horrific outcome for them both, it never makes it to the news. In fact, even when Novella shares the facts with her boyfriend he seems utterly indifferent. If it wasn’t for Weber’s need to tie those events into the film’s twist ending, I would argue it’s a superfluous scene built only for shock value in contrast to Novella’s main narrative. In a film that plays it straight(ish), it felt that Eat was tumbling into a different kind of genre and not knowing what to do about it.
That said, Eat is disturbingly beautiful film and Weber should be applauded for making it look so good. The performances vary in quality which is sometimes expected in low-budget deals like this, but they cross the line into full blown pantomime. It’s hard to recommend the film as something to enjoy as you would any other horror. Gore hounds will inevitably love it, but Eat is about more than watching a woman go Ouroboros on herself. There’s a deeper, dare I say darker, social commentary at play that highlights the BS the average starlet has to put themselves through in order to be recognized. Eat is most certainly a bloodthirsty curiosity worth checking out.