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Panic Fest Review: CANNIBAL MUKBANG - A Twisted Romance Served with a Side of Horror

A woman sits on a couch with a man who's lying down and in front of them is a table of human parts to eat
Image courtesy of IMDB

By Amylou Ahava

Living in South Korea for a year and a half exposed me to many facets of Korean culture, but one term that never quite made it into my vocabulary was "mukbang." While not a common word in daily conversation (especially outside certain fandoms), mukbang is unique in Korean popular culture. It's a concept that allows people to share what could be considered a unique or intimate moment with another person (often a K-pop star) by watching videos of them eating. This voyeuristic experience can evoke various emotions, from feelings of community and companionship to, oddly enough, even sexual arousal. Director Aimee Kuge's debut feature, CANNIBAL MUKBANG, takes this already bizarre concept and cranks up the intensity. The film focuses on eating sounds (usually mundane) but turns them into something grotesque and unsettling to amplify any discomfort in the audience. 

Ash (April Consalo) and Mark (Nate Wise) begin the movie with a bizarre meet cute. What makes it so unusual is that Mark does not remember the meeting. He recalls being in a convenience store at 2 am buying snacks, where he crosses paths with a cute redhead (Consalo). They exchange a few words, and Mark tries to leave but then wakes up in the bed of the pretty redhead. She claims there was an accident and is just glad he is okay. Mark finds the whole situation a bit unsettling but soon falls into a comfortable conversation with Ash, and as they get to know each other, it is revealed that Ash makes a living recording herself eating. However, there's a dark twist: Ash craves human flesh. As we watch a new budding romance unfold in the A plot, the B plot subtly reveals a string of mysterious disappearances that seem to be plaguing the city. As their relationship deepens, Mark becomes entangled in Ash's disturbing appetite, leading to a climax that forces him to confront his own desires and the consequences of their relationship. 

Mark, the male protagonist of CANNIBAL MUKBANG, is portrayed in an endearing light, thanks to Nate Wise's compelling performance. Mark's swift infatuation with Ash and his subsequent obsession is depicted with a blend of innocence and vulnerability that resonates with audiences. Wise's portrayal captures the character's internal conflict and turmoil as Mark struggles with his growing attachment to Ash while grappling with the unsettling nature of her secret. His earnestness and genuine affection for Ash are profound, making his character's journey all the more engaging and relatable. Wise skillfully navigates Mark's emotional rollercoaster, from his initial excitement and fascination with Ash to his eventual realization of the dark truth behind her seemingly perfect facade. Through Wise's performance, Mark becomes sympathetic, drawing viewers into his world and making them empathize with his plight.

Opposite Wise, April Consalo sinks her teeth into the role of Ash and serves up a sweet and savory performance. As a manic pixie dream girl, Ash spices up Mark's life with her boldness and offbeat charm. She's like a delicious dish, full of flavor and surprises. Despite her profession (which is all about consuming), she maintains a child-like innocence in her everyday interactions. Consalo's performance is a feast for the senses, blending bubbly charisma with a hint of menace, like a dish with a secret ingredient that keeps you coming back for more. She embodies Ash with a playful yet haunting presence, making her character alluring and unsettling.

Besides cannibalism, the film looks at the dangers of trauma bonding and codependency in relationships. Mark likes a girl. The girl likes to eat people. Therefore, Mark also has to like eating people to stay with the girl he likes. Human flesh becomes a drug, and Mark becomes dependent on it. But even more so, he becomes dependent on Ash and finds himself addicted to her presence (and even her lifestyle). Like a forbidden fruit, Ash's lifestyle becomes intoxicating to Mark, who cannot resist her allure despite the moral implications. As their relationship progresses, Mark becomes increasingly dependent on Ash (both emotionally and physically). Human flesh becomes a metaphorical drug and represents the toxic nature of their bond. Overall, the film explores how relationships (like a poorly cooked meal) can leave a bitter aftertaste if not handled with care.

Finally, the cinematography in CANNIBAL MUKBANG is a feast for the eyes as it offers a visual buffet of stunning imagery that complements the film's dark and twisted themes. The camera work is like a well-prepared dish, with each shot carefully composed to enhance the mood and atmosphere of the film. Lighting is particularly effective as the cast and attached shadows add to the film's eerie and unsettling tone. The cinematographer's (Harrison Kraft) attention to detail is evident in every frame, from the vibrant colors of Ash's outfits to the gory practical effects used to depict the consumption of human flesh. Each scene is like a carefully crafted dish, with every element working together to create a visually stunning and thematically rich film. 

Overall, CANNIBAL MUKBANG serves up an impressive debut from director Aimee Kuge as the film showcases excellent acting and a unique take on the rom-com genre. While the film may be a bit light on the cannibalism and mukbang elements and instead chooses to focus more on the central relationship, its stylistic approach and concept are undeniably intriguing. Kuge's direction shows promise for future works and hints at a filmmaker with a knack for blending humor and horror in unexpected ways. Despite its flaws, CANNIBAL MUKBANG is a tantalizing appetizer that leaves audiences hungry for more from Kuge and her talented cast. With its blend of romance, humor, and horror, this film is a deliciously dark delight that promises even greater things to come.


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