It has been a hard year for anthology horror movies. First, there was the much buzzed about female-led XX, which, despite the empowering cast and crew involvement, turned out to be lackluster. Next, there was Flying Lotus’ Kuso, a film apparently so hideous that it led to audience members fleeing the theater and even falling ill. Yes it’s a crude film, and even with its bodily fluid, orifical, and all-together immoral and abstract obsession(s), it works only in the basest of forms. Then there’s the Argentinian festival film, Terror 5, which seduced audiences with its press kit including an image of a Gene Simmons cosplaying murderous motorcyclist. However, the stories fail to connect in any interesting way, and the film itself is an undeniable bore. Finally, there’s the film at hand, Lê Bình Giang’s KFC, a Vietnamese anthology horror that seeks to expose the cyclical effect of violence.
As with any horror film, audiences expect – or in some cases, demand – a certain level of blood, gore, and other horrific elements. Giang delivers on said expectations within the first few minutes through a chaotic display of vehicular murder, cannibalism, and necrophilia. Needless to say, this is a midnight film in its purest form. However, as the anecdotes continue and the blood flows, the film rarely excites but instead plods along. As most anthology films, KFC suffers from an imbalance in quality. An enticing gang war shifts into an unnecessary foray into necrophilia that, after what seems like the fourth time, feels like less of a sordid plot mechanic and more like a sick obsession. What can be said about KFC though, is that even through the disparity, the horrifying world which Giang has crafted is consistent and convincing.
What is this world exactly? It’s one that, while deeply enamored with violence and cannibalism, apparently revolves around fried chicken and murder. From the film’s opening moments involving the discussion of “Coca-Cola and Pepsi mixing” and casual torture, to a KFC employee enjoying a moped ride, to a young child cannibal debating the nutritional values of KFC, the Southern-style fast-food chain serves as perhaps the strangest through line in recent memory. This fried-chicken fixation is quite hilarious as it’s hard to imagine KFC signing off on their constant inclusion, which makes their appearance work on a multitude of levels.
First, as a critique of Western influence post-Vietnam War. How is it that following the US’ atrocities in Northern Vietnam, that the people have – seemingly, within the context of the film – embraced this US import of, quite frankly, crap chicken? In this sense, it can be argued that there is a link between the senseless violence of KFC as well as the endless death in KFC. Meaning that, is the proliferation of chicken meat any different than the cannibalistic tendencies (bringing to mind the vegan/vegetarian subtext of Texas Chainsaw Massacre  and endless pro-animal rights albums of Cattle Decapitation [e.g., Humanure]). Also, is it that this disconnect between generations, meaning those that fought the US and those that have apparently embraced their customs, have led to a society which eats itself? Or is it class commentary insinuating that those who are only able to afford fast-food are part of an economic meat grinder akin to the chicken farms/factories that the KFC product comes from? Regardless, this subtle world-building is easily KFC’s greatest strength amidst a series of unengaging acts of violence.
If the point of KFC is to exhibit the cyclical effects of violence, it fails. With graphic portrayals that rival works such as Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer (2001), yet without the profound effect, it’s a film that appears to revel in more so than condemn its depiction(s). If one is interested in seeking out a film that brilliantly denounces violence through either desensitization or cultural analysis, look no further than Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989) or Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin (2013). After all of this, it can be said that KFC is another title in a now long line of disappointing 2017 anthology works, yet it is not without merit. With a well-crafted world and a few rousing moments, KFC is worth the watch only the hardest of horror fans.