Eat, Brains, Love
Eat, Brains, Love is a laugh-out-loud funny, surprisingly romantic, zombie road trip movie filled with heart - and brains
It’s a “rom-zom-com”, which was how the granddaddy of all “rom-zom-com’s” – 2004’s insta-classic, Shaun of the Dead – was first marketed.
But Eat, Brains, Love – which enjoyed it’s US Premiere at last night’s 19th Annual Screamfest in Hollywood – sadly, is no Shaun of the Dead.
One might get a bit tired of comparisons to the Edgar Wright beauty, when discussing other horror/comedies in the zombie sub-genre, but there’s simply no other piece against which to judge the success of your film in this specific subset.
In other words, if you’re treading into Shaun of the Dead territory, you better be armed with some serious quality and a generous helping of chutpah.
Two high school students from very different cliques – Jake Stephens (Jake Cannavale – son of Bobby) and Amanda Blake (Angelique Rivera) – inexplicably attack and eat their classmates one day in the school lunchroom. Turns out they’re infected by a sexually-transmitted zombie virus. Following the massacre, they go on the run. They’re hunted by a government agency – which includes young psychic Cass (Sarah Yarkin of Happy Death Day 2U). The agency is aware of the virus, but is trying to keep it hidden. Jake and Amanda bond, fall in love and try desperately to figure out how to control their hunger for human flesh.
The film is based on the young adult novel of the same name, by author Jeff Hart.
Which brings me to my first point. I’ve not read the book, but the point was made to me (by one of my screening cohorts) that the film’s intended audience is unclear. It’s certainly a teenagers in love film, but there are also some very visceral zombie-munching scenes (one which would certainly garner a hard-R rating if brought before the MPAA). The film’s got some great humor, but the central love story won’t necessarily appeal to hard-core horror adults, and the gore is absolutely not appropriate for the young’uns.
And this uneven attitude throughout is only one symptom of the film’s bigger problems. So much of it feels disjointed.
When discussing the film’s humor, there is no consistency in how the many jokes landed. There were several which were laugh-out-loud funny (notably the film’s jabs at quiet mid-western state Iowa and a television interview with Jake’s father) and then plenty of well-intended jokes which never hit their mark.
There were several repetitive sequences of Jake and Amanda getting to know one another, in light of their now shared destinies. Again, they were uneven – some offering great exposition and character development, while others seemed ultimately useless and frankly, repetitive. The Wayne’s World-esque sequence of these young lovers atop the hood of their antique station wagon – was the best example of how to get it right.
And this brings me to yet another one of the big “uneven” bits to me: the “on-again, off-again” chemistry between the two leads. The aforementioned “hood of the car” scene was adorned with some lovely moments of silence and longing looks between the characters. There was a true connection and I found myself really rooting for them here. In other sequences, there was no depth. And the shallow conversation in these missed moments, didn’t allow for a firm cementing of our love for Amanda and Jake. And a love for these characters, and a hope for a union – is at the core of this story.
I’ll again mention my post-screening discussion with friends. It’s as if the film’s script simply flitted by the workshop and subsequent drafts phase, and went directly into production using the screenplay’s very first (and unpolished) incarnation.
There were also several missed opportunities to further connect Jake with psychic Cass. I never quite bought her immediate connection (other than using his personal objects and her gifts, to locate him). But her love/obsession with him never felt complete or justified. And it could have been such an easy fix.
Suggestion: What if they were elementary school classmates/friends way back when, before Cass was sent to the government to take part in their psychic program? This connection with Jake (and potential reunion) would have added so much more depth and plausibility.
Again, another symptom of a seemingly unpolished/incomplete script.
One of my constant gripes – particularly from movie-savvy writers/filmmakers – is the overused call-outs to fave films of yesteryear. I’ve found that well-placed and occasional references to beloved films, is a genuine treat. But in films like Eat, Brains, Love – there were too many movie references (Aliens, Star Wars) and this choice has begun to feel – I don’t know, somehow lazy.
Look, as a film-lover, I can handle the call-outs – perhaps in the visuals or in an occasional sight-gag – something which not everyone will recognize. But actual dialogue (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”) from classic films (especially when there’s a lot of it) becomes a turn-off for me.
There were also obvious references to Stranger Things (Cass’ abilities) and Romero’s Day of the Dead (trained zombies).
The gore/make-up effects are all pretty well done. I was particularly a fan of the contact lens choices for the infected characters.
The film is not without its charms, certainly. And I wasn’t at all bored. I think with some additional fine-tuning, Eat, Brains, Love could have been a solid addition to the horror/comedy pantheon.
There were a few supporting performances which I felt were a bit lacking (notably Jim Titus as Tom, Cass’ work-partner). Didn’t care for his work here, until he had one of the very best laughs in the entire film – revealing a moment about his daughter. Brilliantly conceived and executed.
But the three leads (Rivera, Cannavale, Yarkin) all provided fun, kooky and sometimes endearing performances.
And in a supporting role as “Creepy Man with the Bow-tie”, you might recognize Patrick Fabian, previously showcased in The Last Exorcism.
The film is directed by Rodman Flender, probably most remembered for his 1999 horror/comedy, Idle Hands.
Eat, Brains, Love is entertaining, with some genuine belly laughs, but there are too many missed opportunities and seemingly unpolished pieces to the story and script. It could have been… should have been… and would have been a “sit, back and simply enjoy” flick – if it had made more solid choices on so many different fronts.
Eat, Brains Love is only at the tip of its festival fun (having premiered at FrightFest). So keep your rotten eyelids peeled for news of a wider release.