The Feast made its World Premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival. IFC Midnight will release the film in the U.S. on Nov. 19.
The alluring nightmares within folk horror are born of the timeless collision of the modern with the ancient. In this subgenre, a modern man of reason is often brought low by forces ancient and mystical, who do not play by the rules of society or logic. Works like this usher us into the surreal with magic, blood, and a scathing social commentary about the sins of our society. In The Feast, these sins are against Mother Earth, whose riches are plundered by a wealthy Welsh family that has lost touch with the land. Her sweet revenge makes for savagely satisfying horror that is as beautiful as it is brutal.
Written by Roger Williams, The Feast is a fable with familiar figures reinvented into contemporary characters. Instead of a king and queen with a towering castle, a Member of Parliament (Julian Lewis Jones) and his socialite wife (Nia Roberts) rule over their sprawling country estate from an eyesore of a mansion. A smudge of grey brick and glass against the horizon, the house’s muted colors and harsh lines make it look like a prison, not a home. Within, the family’s princes of privilege are a golden boy (Sion Alun Davies), who trains obsessively for triathlons, and the screw-up (Steffan Cennydd), who favors rock music and hard drugs. Despite some bubbling resentments, theirs is a charmed life of luxury. That is, until a spooky stranger appears on their doorstep.
Local girl Cadi (Annes Elwy) has come to serve an opulent three-course feast for some very important guests. However, there’s something off about her. Clashing with her black-and-white server’s uniform is her sopping wet hair, eerie silence, and a gaze so distant it’s as if she’s looking right through this family and deep into the woodlands beyond their walls. These and more bizarre omens go ignored because the family cannot imagine what horror they’ve invited in. How could they? This clan has bought into the modern myth that wealth builds an impenetrable wall against all forms of peril. Family secrets whispered — or screamed — reveal it has worked well enough before. But before this night’s out, there will be a gloriously bloody reckoning for their greed. Their palace will become a prison. Their pain will be our delicious schadenfreude.
With a methodical pace, The Feast is about mood more than big moves. Perhaps this is why Williams’ dialogue can prove grating. Some is successfully subtle, hinting at dark backstories. However, when it comes to his environmentalist messaging, the script is achingly blunt, crudely dumping exposition in overlong conversations about mining and sacred land. If only he’d relied on his visual storytelling, which powerfully unearths elements mysterious yet menacing, like a broken bottle employed as a bawdy booby trap.
Best Horror Movie of 2020
Director Lee Haven Jones brings these unsettling scares to vivid life with a clever color story and chilling gore. The muted hues of the family home are contrasted by the bold greens that lie outside it. As Cadi stalks within, more color creeps along with her, the rich browns of dirt, the popping purple of flowers, the yellows of rot, and — of course — the blossoms of blood. Also blooming are spectacles of body horror, from a nasty cut or a gurgling gag to stomach-churning reveals too sick to spoil. Yet, Jones shows surprising restraint in his slaughter; the violence often occurs out of frame. Nonetheless, the suggestion of it and the gruesome evidence this violence leaves behind prove deeply chilling.
Making this graphic mayhem all the more unnerving is the icy tone the family maintains even as they are ripped to shreds. If they screamed or fled or fought back, viewers might enjoy the relief of action or a rush of adrenaline. The Feast slyly declines such rewards, pulling us deeper into its trippy tension. The subdued performances from a riveting cast enhance the surreal mood, which is bolstered in the edit by abrupt cuts from jaw-dropping horror to a remote moment of eerie calm. The pacing of the story is at an amble, while the cuts between scenes are jolting jumps. This funky flow is smartly jarring. Altogether, Jones’ execution assures his audience can never feel truly grounded in this world as its rules grow slick with superstition.