Werewolves. Vampires. Zombies. Each of these monsters of the dark owe their origins to legends and myths, to a time before science when fear ran roughshod over reason. That part of ourselves remains present even now and yet we find ourselves drawn to exploring it still. With October being the most “in season” period to explore that part of ourselves which still turns pale at the thought of the monsters from our nightmares, Well Go USA offers its own exploration of the dark with director Edward Drake’s Broil, a tale of a family quarrel that may just leave the fate of humanity in its wake. Co-written by first-time screenwriter Piper Mars and Drake, Broil contains some impressive ideas which are unfortunately brought down by an inconsistent focus.
When 17-year-old Chance Sinclair (Avery Konrad) gets in trouble one too many times at school, she goes to live with her peculiar grandfather, August (Timothy V. Murphy). Upon the passing of her 18th birthday, her family gathers for a special meal in which they will engage in their annual harvest celebration. Making the event more special, Chance’s mother June (Annette Reilly) brings along a gifted chef (Jonathan Lipnicki) to prepare a meal that could change the course of history. How can one meal do such a thing? This is no ordinary meal and the Sinclairs are no ordinary family, for under the surface lurks something angry, ancient, and hungry.
A film like Broil is a bit of an anomaly. Drake’s direction is engaging and the mix of Wai Sun Cheng’s (Alive, short) cinematography and Tawni Botelho’s (Odd Girl, short) production design does an excellent job of setting an eerie vibe that becomes more necessary the further into the film you get. Just after the opening scene, for instance, the visible space on-screen is limited in scope to a tight circle with red light and music coming from the distance. As the camera pushes in on a figure standing in the doorway, the light and sound increase until the figure is revealed to be Chance (first seen in the sequence just before) at a party. It’s unclear if the party is for Halloween but the revelers are decked out in devil and angel garb, making the scene feel foreboding for what’s to come. There are a great deal of little details in this sequence which are played with later — like a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turn of a cross — which serve to add subtle color to the narrative whether by hinting at the subtext or offering some kind of clue as to what makes Chance and her family so unique.
In terms of performance, the big highlights here are Murphy and Lipnicki. Murphy quite literally commands any scene he’s in, shrouding a general unease and menace over any moment of which his August Sinclair is a part. Murphy makes the mysterious head of the family believable in his intimidating temperament and outright clever capability. It’s mentioned by Chance that the Sinclairs are incredibly wealthy and powerful, which is all well and go as far as exposition goes to set the stage, but Murphy brings it to life in a way that induces quite a bit of terror, not because August is loud or overly violent, but that Murphy imbues August with deadliness that seeps through the smallest movements or line deliveries. Though Konrad’s Chance is introduced as the audience’s surrogate, it’s the chef who steals our attention and interest. The former Jerry Maguire scene-stealer is up to his old tricks as the hitman-for-hire chef who is coerced into targeting August. As much is teased out about the Sinclairs, the script does the same for the mostly nameless chef, requiring that Lipnicki engage the audience via performance. Though the character is clearly affected in some manner, Lipnicki conveys who the chef is in the same method as Murphy: quietly, precise, and subdued where Murphy is high-spirited. Much in the same way you’ll want to keep one eye on Murphy to see when the next shoe drops, you’ll want to remain attentive on Lipnicki to see how he reacts as a result.
These little things, though, don’t make up for what makes Broil a frustrating watch. There’s an interesting mythos at play which is slowly teased until just before the final confrontation but its handling throughout Broil makes it difficult to decipher on the first watch due to the convoluted approach. For instance, Chance is sent to live with August so that she can get her behavior on track as a young adult and, as the audience learns via a conversation with her uncle November (Corey Large), learn more about her heritage. He even tells her where to start looking to better understand her family history. After a brief montage implying a year has passed since her arrival, the film cuts to the dinner and Chance appears to have learned exactly zero about the Sinclairs. If she wasn’t there to learn who she is, what was the point of keeping her there? The answer comes before the end of the film, except the struggle for reasoning comes with the structure of the film. If Chance is meant to be the one the narrative follows, where is the discovery? For it all to come in pieces on the night-of makes the reveal feel more intended for the audience than for the character. The end result is that the character feels like an unnecessary waste and a misdirect when the stronger narrative focus is right there in the form of Lipnicki’s chef. Coupled with the lack of proper explanation that gets teased throughout Broil, the experience feels purposeless. One would hope that there would be some bonus features included that might better explain or explore the mythos, but the only things offered on disc are theatrical trailers and previews for other Well Go USA properties. Then there’s the audio mix which lacks any kind of balance. Whether it’s the music from the party mentioned before or first-time composer Hugh Wielenga’s score, the music frequently outweighs the dialogue for prominence and, when not heard concurrently, requires a fast hand on the remote to either turn up or down the volume based on need.
There are elements present in Broil which make watching it worth the price of admission. Much of that comes from Murphy and Lipnicki, as well as a clap-worthy narrative twist. These aspects highlight the strengths of the narrative, demonstrating that there’s something within Broil that’s worth exploring. With the audio issues and general mercurial nature of the narrative execution, it’s hard not to feel frustrated by story’s end. If this were a last meal, I certainly would not attend.
Broil Special Features
- Broil trailers
- Well Go USA previews
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital October 13th, 2020.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.