One of the greatest flaws of the human race is that, more often than not, we do not listen…
…We don’t listen to the signs of the dying Earth around us. We tend not to listen to our bodies when warning signals are going off, in a naïve hope that they will pass. And, maybe most importantly, we don’t listen to each other. I mean for god’s sake, half of us don’t even listen to doctors when they tell us to wear a mask in a pandemic. At its core, the human race is self-absorbed, despite a reliance on the Earth and those we share it with. Having just made its World Premiere at SXSW, director Lee Haven Jones’ The Feast is a punishing film that picks at the layers of our selfishness like a rotten onion.
Be warned, this one is not for the faint of heart.
Written by Roger Williams, The Feast follows a wealthy family preparing for a dinner party in rural Wales. Presented like a sinister twist on a Wes Anderson joint, we meet the rich, quirky snobs. There’s the mother, Glenda (Nia Roberts), who is obsessed with keeping the home clean; there’s the father, Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones), a politician who revels in hunting and killing innocent things; and the two sons, drug addict Guto (Steffan Cennydd) and horny weirdo, Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies), who is first seen feeling himself up in the mirror. All have their stranger sides, but none are as strange as Cadi (Annes Elwy), the new help for hire who has just arrived to assist with the dinner preparation, a woman with her own dark secrets.
Jones wastes no time getting under the audience’s skin, opening on the chirping of birds over black, before eventually mixing the sound with the screaming of a drill as a construction worker is ruthlessly murdered by an unseen force. It’s a shocking way to start, and sets an uneasy, violent tone.
At its core, The Feast is a film that is in touch with the earth, and a violent nature that mankind does it’s best to ignore.
Like any traditional dinner party, The Feast is brimming with moments of discomfort. Bjorn Stale Bratberg’s cinematography masterfully builds the unease early on, introducing us to the characters and the elegant mansion they reside in with slow sweeps through the house that creep like a curious stranger. Lacking color and plainly dull, every corner of the house feels like somewhere we shouldn’t be, presented more like a too-clean museum than a place where people live. As someone who has rich family members, I can tell you that’s exactly what a “money” house feels like. For such a sprawling mansion, every room has a claustrophobic sense.
The tension is so thick, you could cut it with a pure silver knife.
We learn that Glenda and Gwyn have come into quite a bit of money thanks to dinner guest Euros (Rhodri Meilir), a man who has set the family up to earn profits from allowing their land to be drilled into, something which has disturbed neighbor Mair (Lisa Palfrey) and of course, the land itself. These are characters who resemble the worst effects that wealth can have on someone. That isn’t to say that wealth is inherently bad, but money has a strange effect on people, and with this family, it’s turned them all into the worst kinds of selfish, to a degree where none of them seem to have room in their hearts for anyone but themselves. That includes each other. These people are so unaware of anything but their own concerns, that if they’d just give Cadi one ounce of their time and actually listen to her instead of telling her she doesn’t talk much as they go on about themselves, then maybe they’d sense how strange she is. Maybe they’d see the warning.
Weird doesn’t begin to describe Cadi, or this film.
Elwy has a unique strength in that she’s able to both sink into the background of a scene per the needs of her character, while also commanding absolute attention when she is present. Cadi herself might as well have snakes protruding from her head and be wearing the flesh of others as a coat, she’s so downright creepy. Still, no one takes the time to notice her for anything else other than to boss her around. Elwy oozes creepiness as she slinks around the house, silent as a mouse, watching them and trying on their things. I lost count of how many times Jones forces us to squirm as Cadi stands inches from one of the family members, staring as they talk, completely unresponsive. If anything, Elwy deserves to be nominated for most unsettling performance of the year.
The downfall of characters that so perfectly fit the theme of “the rich suck” is that there is nothing endearing about these people, and therefore no one worth rooting for. At a certain point, The Feast becomes an exercise in patience, in that the audience is a few steps ahead of the characters, and just begging for these assholes to get what’s coming to them. “Eat the rich” is a phrase I might have shouted here and there while watching.
As for the main course of horror, The Feast takes it’s time building up to inevitable violence, much like a similar dinner party film, The Invitation, but still manages to assault the viewer all throughout with images guaranteed to make you squeal. I never knew there could be so many shots of mouths eating and slurping in one film. One scene in particular is so shocking and cover-your-eyes worthy that it will hopefully silence the crowd condemning sex scenes in movies. The Feast is as gruesome as the title implies, and one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve had watching a film in a while. Hannibal Lecter himself would cringe at some of the more stomach-churning imagery.
Gradually creeping into the film are elements of erotic folk horror and cannibalism that viewers will eat up, though some are undoubtedly going to be frustrated by the film’s vague lore and lack of explanation. And when I say creep in, I mean creep in. The Feast isn’t movie at a mile a minute. Like a dinner party, each element spends time simmering or basting for a while before it can be served. Like a lot of Folk Horror films, The Feast doesn’t hold your hand or play footsie with you at the dinner table. It simply offers up a strange dish of queasy terror and asks you to figure out what it is you’re eating. Understandably, not everyone’s favorite kind of meal.
Regardless, in a time where our society is fed up with the hoarding of wealth and profit being valued over the lives of each other and the planet herself, The Feast is a satisfying meal with a flavor worth savoring.
By Matt Konopka
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