Comprising 12 episodes, each 3–4 minutes long, “Feast of Burden,” a web series by 26-year-old Los Angeles-based filmmaker Eugene Kotlyarenko, is a drama rendered in short bursts. The first six episodes of “Feast of Burden” premieres today on MOCAtv, the YouTube channel programmed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles.
Featuring a dinner party where the characters become trapped by a supernatural force—a conceit that recalls both the surreal environment in Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962) and the campy claustrophobia of the gymnasium scene in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976)—the series is both erudite and uncannily relatable. “A dinner party just felt like the right subject to explore notions of self-importance, propriety and a charged contemporary space,” Kotlyarenko told A.i.A.
The plot opens with Jimmy Yukon, played by Kotlyarenko, frantically calling Kia Rio (Tsien-Tsien Zhang), who doesn’t pick up. Jimmy proceeds to completely freak out. His mania anchors the absurdity that follows, which includes knives, a homeless transvestite, rat poison, an auto-cannibal and a scene in which Jimmy passes out, foaming at the mouth. “I had recently gone to see Possession , the cult horror film by Andrzej Å»uÅ?awski, and it reminded me of how truly powerful it is to be extremely emotional,” he said.
The characters, all of them named after cars—such as LaPorscha, A-Lexus, Mercedes and Petey Cruiser—are played by performers, actors and artists in Kotlyarenko’s extended social network. They embody archetypes that will be familiar to any 20- or 30-something person who runs in an urban set. Mercedes (Hannah Hunt) and Benzamin (Morgan Krantz) are the perfect, put-together couple who host the dinner party, but openly despise each other. LaPorscha (LaPorscha Wynne) is a disaffected young woman who brings a reality check along with dessert. Spider (Carlos Morera) is a really nice, painfully earnest guy, and Sob Moonroof, played by the arresting Lauren Alice Avery, is his new girlfriend, whose ability to do magic and affect indifference confers upon him major social capital.
The high camp of the low-budget setting—the film was shot on Canon 5D and 7D cameras in producer Mieke Marple’s ranch house in Silver Lake—allows for stark contrasts of color to stand in for changing temperatures and moods. As characters move from room to room, they are framed by dark lighting to denote supernatural forces; black and white walls that embody the fraught relationship between Benzamin and Mercedes; and rainbow-colored tableaux that add to the feeling that things might, at any second, get out of control.
The table around which the characters gather is a gluttonous affair, piled with heaps of vegetables and meats that the guests moan over. “People are obsessed with food, and green or organic,” said Kotlyarenko. “In foodie culture, secret chefs have secret house dinners where people pay 120 dollars to get secretly prepared chef organic green micro allergenic meals. It all feels sort of deranged to me, but no more deranged than our relationships with technology.”
Technology is conspicuously missing in the possessed house—the only cell phones getting reception are those served by Metro PCS (to which only Petey Cruiser, the landlord, whose phone is broken, subscribes), and the Internet is password protected by a neighbor. The video embraces how weird it is to be without it, suggesting that in its absence, surreal, scary things will happen.
The serial format allows for cliffhangers that rapidly heighten the suspense until the final episode, which doesn’t end prettily. What remains to be seen is if online audience will watch narrative content like this on sites like YouTube. “I definitely want to play to the strengths of the web, which is very fast-paced and exciting and necessitates grabbing people’s attention all the time, but also want to introduce a narrative continuity and payoff,” Kotlyarenko told A.i.A. “If the movie is good, it will play well, no matter what space, virtual or real, it’s shown in.”
The first six episodes of “Feast of Burden” come out today. The last six will be revealed on Nov. 26.