Eat Brains Love Movie Review
Written by Rachel Knightley
Released by Gunpowder & Sky
Directed by Rodman Flender
Written by Mike Herro, David Strauss and Jeff Hart
2019, 87 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest World Premiere on 25th August 2019
Jake Cannavale as Jake Stephens
Angelique Rivera as Amanda Blake
Sarah Yarkin as Cass
Jim Titus as Tom
Make it past the tired and self-conscious ‘recap’-style opening sequence, and there’s a genuinely touching, thoughtful and very funny rom-com/comedy-horror at the heart of Eat Brains Love. Written by Mike Herro and David Strauss from the novel by Jeff Hart, director Rodman Flender has found an impressively fresh feel for the familiar territory of his teen high school setting, its characters, their relationships and power games –before and after they turn into zombies.
The deliberately ditsy voiceover intro of state-sanctioned psychic Cass, trained pursuer of “nercros”, informs us this zombie virus is spread through sex and activated when the host’s emotions are raised through hunger or anger. But the story really gets its voice when we leave the hunter’s narration behind to join the hunted. Jake Stephens (Jake Cannavale), a well-meaning but directionless high school student, has just failed a career test and is in unrequited love with Amanda Blake (Angelique Rivera), captain of the cheerleading team. An apparent lesbian kiss in the canteen between Amanda and a hanger-on becomes a zombie attack when Amanda bites off the girl’s cheek. Something Jake has been suppressing responds. They both turn and, having eaten, raise their eyes in a zombie meet-cute. On the run from authorities and families who’ve framed the attack as a school shooting, Jake and Amanda meet Grace (Kristin Daniel) and Summer (Kym Jackson) – the film’s other excellent double act – ethical zombies, eating their way through “Grace’s list” of rapists and paedophiles. This begins a road trip of survival for Jake and Amanda as ‘zombie vigilantes’, unaware they’re psychically pursued by Cass (Sarah Yarkin) whose voyeurism begins with keeping her superiors from pursuing Jake but grows in jealous as she watches him gets closer to Amanda. Expect stand-out moments of psychic spookiness and ethical body horror along the way.
Jake and Amanda carry the film as a convincing and likeable double act. They’re well cast and served by a script that knows how to let character voice and action keep momentum, with no tripping over exposition. These skills could have served Cass better from the start – certainly no fault of Sarah Yarkin who is clearly capable of a great deal more than the uphill battle of the unbalanced love triangle offers her. Though seen through a male teenage vision of the world, it’s still uncomfortable quite how often lesbianism is expected to be a passcode for humour, certainly too often for 2019, but the story works as well as it does because it knows its character voices and exists firmly inside them. Other kinds of love get more successful spotlights: the new understanding between Amanda and her estranged brother Kyle (Alex Stage) is one of the standout sequences and relationships of the movie.
Nodding with humour and respect to its influences on all sides, this is a well-cast, well-paced comedy that knows to rely on voice and storytelling to make the most of the gore, rather than the other way around. With so very much going for cast and story, it’s frustrating to have a beginning and ending that play against these strengths. An open ending for characters who’ve discovered there’s potentially more to them and their futures than society has previously offered makes a lot of sense, but the air of the previously nice hero now looking at both girls as competitors with himself as the prize is an uncomfortable future for everyone, with or without the final battle we leave them on the edge of. If Eat Brains Love wants to be a series, that could explain choosing an opening so formulaic and an ending so unformed, but with storytelling this strong it should have worked harder to be fully itself, so the ending could be more cliff-hanger than let-down.
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