Chance (Avery Konrad) is like most teenage girls, curious about who she is and what direction she wants her life to go in. Broil begins with Chance telling her story around a campfire in an almost narrative capacity, noting that she always thought it would be interesting growing into the family’s rich and eccentric Sinclair name and lifestyle. As we are quickly redirected, the viewer sees Chance attending a campus party where she decides to make-out with a stranger. An altercation occurs between Chance and a classmate who takes a video of the two in the act, resulting in Chance getting a one-day suspension.
There’s this enjoyable moment in the principal’s office with crosses on the wall turning upside down and the principal’s cross necklace burning her as she speaks to Chance’s grandfather, August (Timothy V. Murphy). August takes a shine to Chance’s behavior, telling Chance’s mother, June (Annette Reilly), that he didn’t think Chance had it in her. When June and mute husband, December (Nels Lennarson), go to discuss business with August, they leave Chance to babysit their youngest, Luck (Alice Antoinette Comer).
The viewer knows something is wrong with this family but can never pinpoint exactly what it is. They seem normal enough, save for Chance’s aversion to sunlight which requires regular transfusions, though there’s never any vampire specifics to align the viewer with this idea completely. As we move into a scene with August, June, and December discussing a “Harvest of Souls,” the vampire motif seems to slip away and create a fascinating air of mystery around the Sinclairs.
During their meeting, June tells August that this will be herself and December’s last harvest. August argues that no one has left the family and he’ll only grant her request if the pair partakes in one more harvest and leave their first-born, Chance, in his care. Chance, in the meantime, is being expelled from school, crossing paths with the same girl she fought with at the beginning. This opportunity grants her parents the perfect opportunity to tell Chance she will now be homeschooled by her grandfather. As the curtain falls on act one, June and December vow to get their daughter back at next year’s harvest.
As far as setup goes, act one finishes with plenty of viewer curiosity to allow themselves to be strung along. Act two starts a year later, with the introduction to the chef (Jonathan Lipnicki), being invited to partake in making the family meal. As the story rewinds back to introduce the viewer to the chef, or Sydney, noting his social awkwardness in trying to talk to a food truck barista as well as his hitman-like sensibilities.
The film goes a bit From Dusk ‘Til Dawn here with the small sect of family rebels enlisting the help of Sydney’s culinary talents to take out August, via the hostage-taking of restaurant owner, handler, and father figure Freddie (Lochlyn Munro). Sydney, agreeing to help goes to the estate and after a brief interaction with August, the film arrives back to where act one originally ended.
Director Edward Drake is very able behind the camera, as a co-writer with Piper Mars, however, there are problems in Broil as it rotates its ever-changing Rubik’s cube of intrigue. The film relies heavily on the audience’s patience as it withholds information, saving it to reveal later. This creates a fun experience for those simply watching the movie, but an irritable one for anyone trying to piece together a linear narrative.
As I tried to identify characters for my notes, I started noticing the gap in a cohesive order. This realization showed there are several nonsensical reveals in Broil. For instance, the elder Sinclairs all being named after a month of the year is presented in an unnecessary moment in the second act. Many of the family names are withheld until that moment, though it has no real bearing on the story. It isn’t the only time something like this happens, earlier I mentioned Chance’s mute father, a minuscule detail that really isn’t noticeable or drawn upon until the second act of the story. Moments after the viewer is given a noticeable cue, a backstory is given to increase the character build on the already compelling August, thanks largely in part to Timothy V. Murphy giving a fantastically wicked performance.
I will admit, that for all of the twists and turns, the second act gets a bit bonkers and allows for a sandbox of speculation in the viewer’s mind. As Sydney sees the pattern in everything, he’s already seen clear through to the other side of the Sinclair’s chess game. The Sinclairs have tricks up their sleeve, however, threatening to put a wrench in the works for Sydney as he tries to save Chance from a future in the family business.
I got the feeling that this aspect of the film may have been inspired by Knives Out, with the giant house, an embittered family, and a story that traverses past and present. Where Knives Out succeeded in rounding up the clues in one sequence, Broil tries to play a tennis match, only succeeding in shaking the audience off the film’s predictability for moments at a time. This mechanic is charming once or twice, but in Broil’s case ends up being a cumbersome feature of the film.
That doesn’t mean Broil is bereft of all charm, in fact, it has plenty of delicious twists and clever ideas. I especially enjoyed the non-traditional take on a severely drained (pun intended) vampire genre. Jonathan Lipnicki’s performance is well suited to his character as well, even if he never said “The human head weighs eight pounds, m*therf*ker,” which would have given me no choice but to write a glowing 5-star review on the spot. All kidding aside, Lipnicki does a great job here adhering to the unaffected, pattern-recognizing nature of chef Sydney, trapped in a house with vicious killers.
While the movie rolls on, we see other references to the likes of Ready or Not as Sydney and Chance are forced to partake in family game night. Even this has its moments and takes an unpredictable turn, though I’m not all that sure how I feel about Chance’s specifically, it still leads to an extremely heartfelt ending. Broil reserves its final twist to do right by its characters in a genre that often leaves viewers with negatively affecting shocks, and scares. It’s a little refreshing and adds gravity to the film it could have easily forgotten.
I don’t think everyone is going to like Broil. It didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, but it didn’t exactly leave me begging for seconds either. In other words, it isn’t going to make any end of the year best-of lists, but it’s still a lot better than most. I also feel like this movie will do very well for horror fans looking for an appetizing Thanksgiving treat. Thanksgiving doesn’t have enough horror films, and though this film isn’t specific to the holiday, it could still be a good one to adopt. All the right themes are there: family, food, and coup d’état. With the holidays looming, Broil shows us having the family for dinner can be a lot to chew on, but still tasty fun.
Broil will be released to Blu-Ray, DVD, and VOD Tuesday, October 13th.