The horror comedy Gravy opens with Anson (Michael Weston) buying sorbet in a gas station on Halloween, where he has the most unrealistic, awkward conversation with Bethany (Sarah Silverman). It is charming in the characters’ simplicity, but it avoids realism entirely.
After this, we leave these characters in lieu of those working in a bar at closing time. The ensemble all work off of each other like old friends, cracking jokes at each other’s expense and acting like a family. Again, endearing, yet simplistic.
These two scenes converge when a band of costumed figures, of which Anson is a part, holds the bar workers hostage. This scene unfolds wonderfully. The comedy is in the opposition to convention. We do not see the gang hold up the bar staff, instead focusing on one long take of a hallway in the bar. Lighthearted, almost circusy music plays as the camera slowly cants to the jovial rhythm. And all that is heard beyond that is the commotion off screen.
As the bar staff sits in the basement of the bar, tied to chairs, they all speak to each other in a surprising lack of hysterics, finally coming to the calm consensus that the robbers aren’t exactly robbers. It is a comical exchange, and one that is expected of James Roday, the writer and director of the picture. The scene then devolves into weird tongue-play. Don’t ask.
Roday brings pretty much what one might expect him to bring to a horror comedy. Lots of outdated ’90s and ’80s references. Strange diversions. Purposefully awkward exchanges. Sometimes, the tone works perfectly. Other times, it is painful in its failure. That’s what happens when you swing big on quirkiness. Roday also falls into a group mind quagmire where all of the characters seem to have the same quirky knowledge of random things. Just listen for the movie references or the Army of Portugal cipher mentions, and you’ll see. (Don’t get me wrong, a solid Stand and Deliver joke never fails to get me, but in a room of 12 people, only the minority will know what that movie is).
Turns out, the intruders are really cannibals. They are sadists who act like sitcom characters. It really doesn’t land all that well, all things considered, though the acting core of our antagonists is solid throughout. The undermining of horror conventions works, for a time, then comes to be tiresome, as it is the same tactic used throughout the film. That being said, the soundtrack is beautifully anachronistic to horror throughout, and it is hilarious. Case in point: the scene which utilizes the Cutting Crew song “(I Just) Died in Your Arms.”
The most compelling aspect of the movie’s narrative is the tragic tale of chef Yannick (Lothaire Bluteau). His arc is thread throughout the gory torture porn A-plot, and it is worth sticking around for. Also worth sticking around for: a scene between Anton and Kerry (Sutton Foster) in the bar’s pantry. Trust me, it’s comedy gold.
The script and direction might have Roday written on it in bold black Sharpie, as if it is an unrated Halloween special of Psych. And the characters may all live in the same headspace (aka Roday’s Rain Man-esque reference brainscape). But, if you can look over these minor grievances, there are many little scenes that are worthy of viewership. Some scenes, when picked apart, show a love for the genre and for the craft, and they have a self-aware nod that is exacted with perfect subtlety. Other scenes simply show a lot of heart that torture porn (even when it’s comedy) isn’t prone to showing.
When all is said and done, Gravy is that odd mix of personal affinity for genre and upending of conventions that makes for quality horror comedy. The film stumbles at times, and is clearly an acquired taste, but there is certainly more comedy to enjoy than comedy that fails.
To be fair, a lot of the jokes are deep cut movie references. It didn’t deter me any, but I can understand why it might deter others. Plenty of references went over my head, as they are before my time. Still, though, I could find something to grasp on to throughout the entire film. And that is saying something for a horror comedy. Each scene either had a character or a line or a specific moment that drew me in. And that is quality filmmaking. Perhaps there isn’t a coherent overall arc that screams greatness, and there isn’t much with the narrative that hasn’t been done before. But Gravy has a surprising amount of heart that pulled me in. Bravo, James Roday.
As always, thanks for reading!
Gravy is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
Have you seen Gravy? If so, what did you think? What is your favorite horror comedy? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)