‘Consumed’: LAFF Review

Courtesy of Los Angeles Film Festival

Zoe Lister-Jones stars as a mother alarmed by her family’s exposure to genetically modified food in Daryl Wein’s rural drama.

Diving into a topic typically reserved for studiously scripted documentaries, Daryl Wein’s independent feature examines the issue of genetically modified foods and their potential impacts on Americans’ health and diet. It’s a vast subject with a wide diversity of viewpoints, and the film evidences some narrative and stylistic strain, attempting to embrace perhaps too many different perspectives.

However, a degree of simmering social concern about genetically modified (GM) products lends the film a distinct topicality that could spur viewership in typical arthouse enclaves, as well as on digital platforms and online, where many of the issues addressed are frequently debated.

In an effort to personify the generalized anxiety developing among a growing number of consumers regarding GM foods, the filmmakers rely on a set of familiar character types to bolster the narrative, including a concerned mother, an embattled farmer and a conflicted corporate CEO. Zoe Lister-Jones plays anxious single mom Sophie, who works a dead-end waitressing job at a local restaurant in a nondescript Illinois farming community so that she’ll have afternoons free to look after her middle-school-age son Garrett (Nick Wilkin). Living with her mother Kristen (Beth Grant) to help make ends meet, Sophie becomes concerned after Garrett catches a bad case of the flu that’s making the rounds and then comes down with a nasty, itchy rash that begins spreading over his body.

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After some online research, Sophie begins to wonder if her family’s diet may be the source of Garrett’s condition, specifically his exposure to genetically modified (GM) foods. Her increasing suspicions are amplified by her susceptibility to paranoid delusions, which start recurring unpredictably as her stress level increases. When she tries to obtain organic produce from local farmer Hal (Danny Glover), he refuses to sell her any, convinced she’s an undercover operative for Clonestra, the multinational that’s been harassing him to plant his fields with the corporation’s patented crops.

Delving further into the impacts of GM agriculture, Sophie discovers that Clonestra is funding transgenic livestock research at the nearby university where her mother works. Rebuffed as she seeks additional information from the school administrators, she teams up with a disgraced former scientist (Griffin Dunne) turned independent investigator to determine whether the company’s GM research may pose a threat to food safety.

Wein and Lister-Jones, a married couple who co-wrote their first two features together, task Consumed with an ambitious agenda that’s not always in sync with the scale of the film. In particular, scenes depicting the inner workings of Clonestra’s corporate research and PR activities and the role of hands-on CEO Dan Conway (Victor Garber) come across as rather speculative, considering that the company is modeled on some of the world’s biggest agribusiness players.

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While these and similar scenes are intended to heighten tension, introducing an abundance of narrative complexity results in several subplots getting abandoned before dramatic resolution is achieved. Stylistically, attempting to spin the film as some type of corporate thriller represents a miscalculation, particularly after revelations regarding Sophie's delusional episodes would appear to compromise her mental competence.

Lister-Jones is far more persuasive playing a concerned parent than an amateur sleuth in any case, particularly when she’s forced to defend her family’s survival. As a sketchy ex-cop with mysterious connections to Clonestra who’s trying to gain her affection, Taylor Kinney seems like he’s always trying too hard, while Glover and Dunne are reliably enjoyable in underwritten roles. 

Wein goes for a moody, desaturated look throughout the film that helps heighten Sophie’s sense of dread, but drains the rural landscape of any real personality. Although Consumed largely lacks a thriller’s characteristically elevated pulse rate, Wein has created an earnest, thoughtful drama that may eventually prompt other filmmakers to apply any number of stylistic interpretations to the debate surrounding genetically modified foods.

Production company: Mister Lister Film
Cast: Zoe Lister-Jones, Danny Glover, Victor Garber, Taylor Kinney, Anthony Edwards, Griffin Dunne, Kunal Nayyar, Beth Grant, Nick Wilkin
Director: Daryl Wein
Screenwriters: Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones
Producers: Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones
Executive producers: Neil Stubenhaus, Robert Watman, Michael Jacob, Nine Nights, William Lister, Lily Lister, Mimi Kennedy
Director of photography: Alex Bergman
Production designer: Bret Tanzer
Editor: Zachary Anderson
Music: Nima Fakhrara
Sales: WME Entertainment

No rating, 96 minutes

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