Directed by Gary Francis Roche | Reviewed by Rohan Bhattacharya
The fear of the unknown has plagued the human mind even after millennia of evolution. Undoubtedly, artists have taken the liberty to manipulate this fear of ours, and create something that would leave us shaken. Gary Francis Roche, with his short prologue, ‘Burger Royale’ delivers more than just the thrill from a petty jump-scare, pushing us into a world that is grotesque to its core; a world that would take you down the gooey alleyways of human depravity. The fear derived from something that might otherwise seem natural tends to affect our minds more than the fear of the supernatural, spirits, and ghostly apparitions.
By taking a more Hitchcockian route, Roche’s intention to showcase the grotesque nature of man was exemplified through the character of a cannibal, who becomes the antagonist of this animated piece. The cannibal is also the owner of a shabby burger joint located at the heart of an unnamed city. He operates in absolute secrecy; neither his customers nor the authorities seem to know anything about what goes on right under their noses. What I loved about this prologue is Roche’s tactful manipulation of his main character, by giving him a false sense of security as he ventures into the empty burger joint, only to break it in an instant with the hit of a hammer.
The most commendable aspect of this short, according to me, was Roche’s use of color, light, and sound. As we enter the title sequence, we are introduced to our main character through a low-angle long shot; the glum yellow light falling directly over him creates shadows around his eyes, foreshadowing the theme of death. Furthermore, the appropriately exaggerated use of the stomach growling sounds creates a sense that something grotesque is about to happen. Roche introduces the color green, which we normally associate with things that are either alien or grotesque, in every proceeding scene, up until the scene in which the character is led down to the cannibal’s workshop, where green takes over the frame as the dominant color. Throughout the short, Roche uses sounds that we would register as something grotesque or disgusting to amplify the eeriness that stands dominant. In shots where death takes dominance: like the scene where we see dead bodies being taken down via a conveyor belt, and the final concluding sequence, the color blue takes a dominant role.
One of the many things I loved about ‘Burger Royale’ was the character design for both the cannibal and the victim. Roche’s child-like take on his designs, I believe, added to the creepiness that he might have wanted to showcase in his film. Furthermore, the exaggerations in his designs helped bring out the grotesque nature of the cannibal and his workshop brilliantly. The cannibal most certainly looked like something that was out of a child’s nightmare. By bringing innocence is his world, Roche was able to glorify the horrors even better. The exaggerated features of the cannibal made him appear less humane; it was as if he was from an alien world. The fact that we could not see his face further added to our inherent fear of the unknown. The most horrifying aspect of this short was that even as an adult, I was taken back to a rather unpleasant nostalgia trip down into the hell-hole of my childhood nightmares. The fear of being dragged onto the chopping block, and turning into a commodity to satiate someone else’s appetite is something that we all fear.
The story-telling was fluid, and the element of surprise was perfectly placed; we were drawn smoothly into a concluding sequence that made us want to ponder on the fate of our main character, although we know it in our hearts that he might have met his end at the hands of the cannibal. However beautiful the construction and presentation of this short was, I can’t help but critique it on the lack of uniqueness in its premise. The short, undoubtedly, builds upon a concept that has been explored by various other storytellers. Nevertheless, the route that Roche took with an otherwise overused premise was most definitely unique and commendable. This short is undoubtedly a brilliant representation of human depravity.
Rohan Bhattacharya is a video editor, filmmaker and writer. His film Komorebi won the second prize in ‘South Asia Japanese Language Short Film Competition,’ organized by The Japan Foundation, New Delhi and his latest film “Tsubaki” has been screened at the Tokyo Short Film Festival in Japan. His production house Sunkaku Productions makes movies in Japanese language to create a bridge of culture between India and Japan.