Director: Niven Wilson
Writer: Niven Wilson
Running time: 10mins
Food often plays a central role in horror, because consumption is an intrinsic part of mammalian life. We have escaped from so many things since descending from the trees, but we can never override our dependence on food. Precisely because it is an inescapable facet of our survival, it is also one of our greatest weaknesses – in societies where the ability to consume is so tightly wrapped up with power, our will to devour can become tied to our biases, and form an ideological compulsion that sees us behave in ways which are truly monstrous.
Vampires; zombies; werewolves; wendigos; they all have their roots in this. As such, Niven Wilson’s animated short poem is not the first to attempt at facing down this nightmarish potential. Even then, though, it does still find ways to serve up some fresh food for thought. While the title conjures images of vague anarchist graffiti, Eat the Rich is not a story about the day when desperation finally sees the starving masses turn up at Downing Street to feast on a Boris Johnson pot roast. Much like La Grande Bouffe, it is a deliberately grotesque examination of what happens if that day never comes.
Our nameless protagonist begins his tale hungrily wandering the streets, when he chances upon some great, shadowy building, “free from Earthly limitations.” Symbollically, the gold-encrusted palace’s bottom seems narrower than its top – the kind of unfathomable architecture Lovecraft might have described as “non-Euclidian.” Rather than treat this as an omen, or indeed to heed the ominous warning of a passer by that “You are what you eat!”, the narrator decides to head inside.
Upon entering, he finds a splendid banquet hall, populated by a shadowy assembly. Among them are an ‘oligarch philanthropist’, ‘conjoined politicians’, ‘hoarder banker’ and ‘hypnotic news anchor’ among other archetypal villains you might recognise from your daily grind. But at either end of the table sit the embodiment of two traditionally non-corporeal characters: The Capitalist, who is always hungry, and The Heiress of Golden Success (who is later referred to simply as Money).
The character design of the ghastly figures is worthy of praise. The rogue’s gallery of guests is both abstract enough to make wider points, yet recognisable enough to link each figure to various ever-present ghouls of the 24-hour news cycle. Meanwhile, the minimalist presentation of The Capitalist speaks of a willingness to do away with literally anything as long as the ability to consume remains in place: it is a pallid, sickly humanoid with its only feature a set of snarling canines and a gaping maw behind them. It limps on as long as there is something to ingest, just as capitalism will continue churning away without all the frills, including human rights, democracy, and a healthy environment – as long as there is still labour to be sold or resources to be burned up.
Wilson’s animation is similarly minimalist – movement in any frame being constrained to the barest amount necessary to convey life. In many instances, this literally consists of an unmoving figure’s upper and lower jaws grinding together. Arguably that is enough in certain moments. However, when the mottled flesh of The Capitalist first strides into view, the style undersells the horror a little. Providing two or three frames to show us that the figure uses its elongated arms to walk on all fours, more might have been done to show an animalistic scuttle, or an unnerving lope, to further characterise The Capitalist through its motions. As it is, it probably leans a little too hard on viewers having seen Smeagol or The Rake move their raggedy broken bodies in other films and stories.
And then there’s the poetry itself. Like the animation, Wilson’s rhyming couplets are a little hit and miss. Many of the verses feel like they were constructed back to front – as though the writer had a particular word he wanted to include, whether or not it interrupted the rhythm of his rhymes.
An example of this is:
“Too divided to compromise for the common good,
Each guest tried to fill himself with as much as he could.
And as they fought over who could eat the most,
they stuffed themselves, but only felt more hollow.”
To be fair to the first rhyme, while it might be a little lengthy it does scan in terms of syllable count and ending – but Wilson’s delivery is a little laboured and struggles to find a rhythm that can carry us with it. The second half, however, gratingly attempts to pass off “most” and “hollow” as a couplet – something made even more difficult to swallow by the delivery.
With that being said, though, there are moments where Wilson’s writing comes alive to fill us with familiar dread. Perhaps the standout line of the whole thing comes as the guests realise the food is running out, and driven by their ideological compulsion to consume, turn on themselves and each other. Regarding their cannibalism, the following is said of The Capitalist:
“He was indifferent to their dissatisfaction, for The Capitalist appreciated the ingenuity of famine.”
In this case, neither the rhyme, or the syllable count might be said to ‘work’ in a conventional sense – but Wilson’s delivery adds a theatrical shine to it that still brings us along for the ride. At the same time, with UK Members of Parliament on £84k currently mocking people for being unable to eat on 30p per day, or suggesting they might beat the cost-of-living crisis by looking for better work, it’s a line which carries a horrific power to convey the world as it is.
As far as the people at our real-life banquet table are concerned, things can get much worse for the rest of us. As long as there is something left to consume – first of all us, then later, each other – they are happy pigs at the trough. Meanwhile, historically, the crises of capitalism have been justified by its advocates as incentives for progress. There is no greater motivation than hunger – so really, think of your starvation as an opportunity.
As long as we are willing to tolerate this line, and to listen to the whisperings of ‘conjoined politicians’ and the ‘hypnotic news anchor’, there will be a class of monstrous human willing to consume our efforts, our energies and eventually our bodies at some great lofty banquet. And even as the feast shrinks, they will continue to gorge themselves – as they do at the end of Eat the Rich – while the world falls apart around them.
In terms of the writing and animation, this film needs a little more TLC. Eat the Rich is not perfect – but who’s interested in perfection? More importantly, it has something interesting to say, and does it in an innovative and evocative manner. Niven Wilson would be well advised to stick to this style, and develop it further as a model. Using horror, animation, and a wry sense of humour to make political points is a path too rarely taken – and more polemicists might consider it as a means to making their arguments more accessible.