The abandoned psychiatric hospital storyline has been wheeled out a number of times in the last few years, from the sublime Session 9, to the workable Grave Encounters. How does Dark Feed fair in this often seen scenario?
Written by the guys who wrote The Ward for John Carpenter, we discover that this hospital in Boston has only had its doors shut for six years, and when it was open it had the honour of being the state’s first psychiatric teaching hospital. The building itself dates back almost 100 years.
The hospital is currently being used to make a low budget movie, and visiting the set that day is up and coming screenwriter Chris, who while being shown round the facility by a producer is being flippantly told of the changes they’re making to his script. Is this perhaps a sly dig from the directors about their own experiences on a previous movie? Chris bites his tongue however, seemingly grateful that someone has picked up his script at all.
As the other crew have work to do, Chris is shown into the editing room where a rough cut of footage has been spliced together for him to have a look at. When he does, his jaw drops at the badly acted cheese of what he’s watching. Before he can see any more, one of the crew comes to whisk him away to the set, where no-one really wants to know him, nor can remember him, and are all too self-obsessed to even acknowledge him. On the set though, strange things are beginning to happen. The boom mic picks up noises in the wall, parts of the set collapse for no reason, and there’s a general air of pervading menace around the place.
As the film progresses, the weird occurrences gradually increase in regularity, but are often more subtle that anything else. For example, there’s a great scene with the dim-witted lead actress Rachel (Rebecca Whitehurst) as she films a scene in a lift. It’s tense and quite sinister, but throughout it remains very much implied rather than overt, while also having an influence on the story as it scares her so much they have to reorganise the shooting schedule.
Most of the criticism for Dark Feed, and there’s a lot, seems to stem from either the long build up in the film before everything goes haywire, or the continued ‘weird things are happening, but no-one’s particularly concerned’ scenarios. Both of these are viable reasons to criticise, and to some degree they’re warranted. Too much emphasis on this though seems to overshadow the good work in Dark Feed, which is unfair. I’ve sat through too many abandoned psychiatric hospital films where the filmmakers have just phoned it in to appreciate that here it’s simply not the case.
The concept of a naïve script writer going to visit the set of the film they’re making from his screenplay, and the relevant back handed compliments, and diva-like protestations that come with it are covered with aplomb. The characters work well, and while there may be a few too many, at least it shows the ambition to produce something with a little more depth that simply having ‘blonde girl #1’, ‘blonde girl #2’. When the gore does begin to flow the practical effects are well done and there’s a feeling of total chaos to proceedings which I feel suits the film as it’s a total contrast to the slow steady build-up of the first half.
Dark Feed has its faults, but for a micro-budget horror the filmmakers have been intelligent to opt for a gradual increase in suspense before going all out in the last part of the movie. In the hands of another director(s) it could have been a generic entry into this genre, but to me it looks like the Rasmussen brothers had a steep learning curve on John Carpenter’s The Ward, and their careers are much the better for it.