While fright fans abhor the label, there is some justification for the new fad in fear filmmaking known as 'violence porn'. Though it actually has very little to do with the adult industry and avoids any and all XXX/hardcore content, the title does have a practical application. You see, many individuals outside the genre believe that current films like Hostel or The Hills Have Eyes remake are nothing more than smut gone splatter. They see the superficial, clothesline-style storylines, easily modified and adorned with all kinds of killing setpieces, and tend to treat the omnipresent gore as these macabre movies' "money shot". While aficionados of the medium will argue – quite successfully – that there is more to Eli Roth's Ugly American revenge flick than severed Achilles tendons and chainsawed legs, Live Feed would have a very hard time justifying its own mediocre merits. A true example of pointless blood feasting, there is nothing else to this floundering film other than its grue. Take away all the attempts at larger thematic relevance and you've got the staggeringly simple tale of tourists getting garroting by local Asia mobsters. Anything else is just icky icing on an already craven cake.
Five friends decide that a trip to the Far East is the best way to express their ever-present hedonistic desires, and so they wind up at some outdoor market in Canada…oops, sorry, Hong Kong, where they run into a guy chopping up Yorkshire terriers to…you guessed it, teriyaki. Anyway, before long, the group is in a local bar, where they make the mistake of pissing off the neighborhood bad guy. They also meet up with a Japanese man looking for his probably dead policeman brother. Looking for a little illegal fun, the gang decides to check out a nearby porno theater. Wouldn't you know it, this place turns out to be the mafia's favorite hangout and after hours abattoir. Soon, a big hulking butcher in a rather comic S&M mask is lining up the visitors for the Don's favorite dish – fried human! And just to make matters more nauseating, all of the slaughter is captured on a Live Feed playing throughout the club. Seems our merry mobster gets off on the killing – or maybe he's just picky about how his favorite foods are prepared.
Rumor has it that the father and son filmmaking team responsible for Live Feed – Canadian crackpots Roy and Ryan Nicholson – had the idea for this Asian slaughterhouse atrocity long before Eli Roth created his future fright flick masterwork Hostel. If that's the case, then Mr. Cabin Fever may have the first and only legal claim of backwards plagiarism ever experienced by a mainstream moviemaker. Wanting to be an all out gratuitous gorefest loaded with gallons of overflowing red stuff, the kind of movies that '80s horror hounds used to seek out as part of their typical dateless Saturday night splatter fests (hey, I was one of them, so I'm allowed, all right?), what we get instead is a mindless waste of time and talent. There is no denying that the Nicholson's have some skills behind the lens. Their movie looks pretty good, and carries itself along rather well for something made by obvious mise-en-scene amateurs. But once you get past the quasi-professional approach, the truth starts to sink in. You cringe at the Canada as Asia elements, the horrific lack of acting talent, and the less than impressive F/X. By the end, you wonder what you, yourself, can do to prevent this film from ever again destroying a fellow fright fans far more valuable terror time.
Here's a little piece of advice for all future independent moviemakers – when you promise bloodletting, actually follow through. Now granted, Live Feed does have several scenes where heads roll, breasts are punctured, and body wounds spray sluice up in the air, Sam Raimi style. But this is not the kind of vile vivisection you see from someone like Jörg Buttgereit or a Day of the Dead era Savini. With limited funds, and only slightly more imagination, what the Nicholsons provide is merely the gore score equivalent of a pop shot. Instead of savoring the slicing of a throat, or lingering over a shot of someone's arm being sawed off, the filmmakers merely make with the stab, and switch the blood pumps to overdrive. At first, it's kind of fun. A bubbling, burbling neck stump casually choking up claret has a nice cruel quality. But when one character's promised chest piercing is nothing more than a cut and a torrent, or when one gal gets a snake in the belly only to have it removed via another small slice, the paltriness of the slaughter becomes problematic. This is especially true when you consider that Live Feed has very little else going for it. The characters are craven archetypes, uninvolving and more than a little irritating, and the storyline tries to be shocking, but only winds up feeling stagnant.
Indeed, the single setting (in this case, a perverted porn theater teeming with surveillance cameras and 'wacky, weird' employees) means we are faced with limited avenues for narrative development. Either we are watching our so-called heroes getting hacked up, or there are some sexual shenanigans going on in the filthiest toilet this side of Trainspotting. As a director, Ryan Nicholson definitely suffers from cinematic ADD. He can't hold on a single sequence long enough to build up tension, mood or dread. He's obvious of the opinion that rapidly moving from one scene to another builds pacing and potential. He is wrong on both accounts. For horror to work, the suspense must have time to get under your skin and affect your mindset. Then and only then will the fear freak you out once it occurs. Jumping around between elements in a mad attempt at creating chaos only succeeds in confusing a viewer. Terror is indeed as much about control as it is anarchy. Had the Nicholsons shown some restraint when it came to filmmaking basics, and a little more of the arterial spray when it comes to the killings, we could have had something significantly sick and twisted. As it stands the only thing deadly about Live Feed is its dullness.
Though obviously shot on digital video, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image does strive for a cinematic quality throughout the transfer. Sometimes, it succeeds. At other instances, director Nicholson resorts to the title treatment for the look of his material. In truth, had the whole filmic finish been aborted and the straight camcorder footage only been employed, the movie would have a much more immediate and effective element to sell its scares. As it stands, this is a decent looking DVD presentation with little else to recommend it.
It's meddlesome mash-up time, with dialogue and derivative music battling it out for Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix supremacy. Sadly, the sounds win out over the conversations more times than not.
A good way to judge how a filmmaker feels about his or her project – and, in turn, how the distributor views its success as a saleable product – is by the way in which the context included creates added interest. In this case, the DVD bonus features found on the Live Feed disc make the movie much more intriguing than it really is. Part of the reason for this is the excellent Making-Of documentary, Behind the Blood. Giving us unusual access to all elements of this film's creation – scripting, casting, shooting and presenting – we see just how hard the actors and production people worked to realize the Nicholsons' vision. We also see the amount of ambition the filmmakers have, both in this project and their craft in general. Equally engaging – though a tad too self-congratulatory at times – is the full length audio commentary provided. Featuring Nicholson and a few cast and crewmembers, this genial discussion of the final production provides some intriguing insights and a few anecdotal surprises along the way. Also included as part of this digital package are a collection of deleted scenes, alternative takes, and a different ending which really does change matters much. Throw in some trailers, a Promo spot for the Richmond Night Market featured in the film's opening sequence, and a look at the fake porno (Womb Service) created to play in the background, and you've got a stellar selection of additional features. Too bad then that the film they flank is so maddeningly pedestrian.
Giving the Nicholsons a minimal amount of credit for trying to be bold in an industry awash in middle of the road mediocrity, Live Feed still doesn't even begin to live up to a gorehound's high level of expectations. As a result, what could have earned a realistic Rent It for at least putting forth the effort now demands a Skip It as a kind of a legitimate life lesson. Promising something you can't deliver, or even worse think you're providing in all out brazen blood buckets, deserves a critical comeuppance. There will indeed be those who find this film to be a sensationally sickening exercise in Grand Guignol style slaughter, citing spectacular splatter efforts of the past as proof of this movie's kindred spiritedness. Others will overlook the red flag flaws filling up the screen and argue that such low budget efforts deserve a little semi-professional slack. In the end, however, all the rationalizing in the world can't change the fact that Live Feed is an unpleasant, ponderous work. When you're cheering for the bad guys to hurry up and kill your 'heroes', when you'd prefer nastiness over more narrative, you know your film is just moments away from imploding. Here's hoping the Nicholsons keep on making movies. Here's also wishing they never try something like Live Feed ever again.