Watching Broil (2020), I am struck by two things. First off, families are weird – as a social unit. You just suddenly find yourself stuck with a group of people linked only by genetics and possible Stockholm syndrome. I mean, many of us say we love our families, but is it a true storgē love, or the product of a lifetime of brainwashing and gaslighting to grant access to a healthy kidney should the worse happen? They’ve got the most control over our lives and are the only ones most of us didn’t get a say about participating in.
The second thing that hit me was that Broil is a brutal crime scene of a film. I don’t mean the gore or shock. I mean that it feels like the implied clean-up scene in the aftermath of a Takashi Miike film.
The story goes thus: after getting into a fight in a Prodigy video masquerading as a high school party, Chance Sinclair (Avery Konrad), is sent to live with her tyrannical and sinister grandfather August (Timothy V. Murphy), the patriarch of the powerful and creepy Sinclair clan. Much is put on Chance living up to the ideals of being a Sinclair. But in the shadows, there is a power struggle within the family, as Chance’s parents move to dethrone August after the next “harvest”.
Broil then decides to make Chance’s story the subplot and focuses on the savant Sydney Lawson (Jonathan Lipnicki), the troubled yet talented chef and vigilante. With his ability to read people at just a glance, he is hired by Chance’s mother, leader of the rebellious Sinclair faction, to prepare the harvest feast and poison August at the harvest dinner. As steak knives come out, Sydney has to use his skills to play the family off one another, as their true nature emerges and Chance does some things in the background.
Broil has some of the best cinematography and editing I have seen from an independent film in a dog’s age. Really, it is a technically impressive film. I’ve harped on about needless montages that don’t show character growth in other films, but in Broil, writer & director Edward Drake masterfully uses them to makes you think he’s providing you with answers. While in reality, he’s dragging you deeper into the mystery.
There is a mystery within this film. What are the Sinclair’s? Chance has been told she has porphyria, needs to hide from direct sunlight, and take blood transfusions. But it’s something supernatural. Are they vampires or demons? It’s clear they eat people, but why? One character says, “Servants of heaven take the righteous, servants of hell cull the damned.” So they’re demons then, right? But then someone says they’re vampires. Who is the King of Horns? Why do they all take their names after months? How do they know to grab two girls from the coffee kiosk Sydney goes to? Who are half the other family members? Who are these people? What has the box they use before got do with the plot? What’s with the massive wireframe statues near August’s house? If they’ve got problems with crosses, why did they send Chance to a Catholic High School? Who is Chance’s father? Really? He’s there, in the film, but who is he? What’s Kyra Zagorsky character doing?
What the hell is going on?
See, that’s why I’m calling it a crime scene. There has been some twisted and evil dissection done to this still living film. I don’t just mean a scene here or a line there. There is too much going on in the story world’s peripherals to make me think that it’s just flavour text for a cannibal horror. Too many dangling plot threads. Drake’s filmmaking skills are on display, so it can’t be just sloppy filmmaking. No, all the evidence points to this film being cut down in a big way. At least somewhere in the region of 15 minutes to a full half-hour.
One thing that could have been cut down was the characters. Far too many for a 90-minute film. Either get rid of the ones with 30-day month names or add an extra 30 minutes. They don’t even serve a purpose to the plot of the film in their current state. And what characters we have are two-dimensional. Take Chance, for example. Save for her being a stereotypical teenager; I know nothing about her. She doesn’t go through an arc—just reactions to stuff. There is a hint about her sexuality that might point towards something more as a character. Still, it’s delivered in such a smug, quip, 90s way that I actually groaned a little. Despite the savant cliché, Sydney could provide an excellent and positive example of ASD representation in the media. He could…but there is way too much flying around that it doesn’t happen. The stand-out among the characters is Murphy’s August. He doesn’t just steal every scene; he takes them, flies off the reg numbers, resprays them, and then sells them back to you. He could just be a screaming, manically villain, but Murphy plays the role with an almost gentle style. He seems a reasonable person, which makes him genuinely menacing. He puts on a Belfast accent, which is the only accent that sounds more threatening the calmer it gets.
Broil should have been a great horror fantasy, wrapped in a riddle that makes you watch to get the answers. I want to see the director’s cut. But right now, it just feels like TV series that has had the middle gutted out of it, and we’re the worst for it.
Dir: Edward Drake
Scr: Edward Drake, Piper Mars
Cast: Avery Konrad, Timothy V. Murphy, Jonathan Lipnicki
Prd: Corey Large, Kashif Pasta
DOP: Wai Sun Cheng
Music: Hugh Wielenga
Runtime: 90 minutes
FrightFest Presents and Signature Entertainment present Broil on Digital Platforms 15th February