The Feast, 2021.
Directed by Lee-Haven Jones.
Starring Anne Elwy, Nia Roberts, Julian Lewis Jones, Steffan Cennydd, Sion Alun Davies, Lisa Palfrey, and Rhodri Meilir.
Over an evening a wealthy family gathers for a sumptuous dinner with guests in their ostentatious house in the Welsh mountains. Served by a mysteriously disturbing young woman, the assembled party do not realise they are about to eat their last supper.
Though Wales has served as the lush backdrop for so many big-budget Hollywood productions over the years, films in the Welsh language itself are shockingly scant. To see a grisly horror film among the few recent movie projects delivered entirely in the Welsh tongue, then, immediately singles out the feature debut of TV director Lee Haven Jones (Waterloo Road, Doctor Who).
In the Welsh mountains, a well-off Member of Parliament, Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones), and his family are preparing to host a lavish dinner at their home for friends and business partners. After their usual hired help becomes unavailable, Gwyn’s wife Glenda (Nia Roberts) takes on a well-recommended replacement, Cadi (Annes Elwy), a seemingly shy and quiet young woman who becomes an increasingly disruptive force throughout the night’s festivities.
Despite the lurid promises of its title, The Feast is actually an incredibly slight thriller more often than not; an assiduous slow-burn filled to the brim with quiet, where the first spoken dialogue doesn’t happen for close to 10 minutes. As we watch Cadi acquaint herself with her various jobs – setting the table and helping Glenda prep dinner, mainly – director Jones leaves us to consider where it’s all going, playing his cards fiercely close to his chest. And for a time, it absolutely works.
Gorehounds are certainly left waiting quite a while for the inevitable red stuff to spill, but this is a film with far more on its mind than just painting the walls crimson. The lingering, clinical glimpses of the family’s ornate home and their various fancies – one son quit work to train for a triathlon, the other is a rampant drug abuser – immediately establishes a dry satire of upper-class decadence, juxtaposed against the presumed modesty of Cadi’s own circumstances.
On a broader level Roger Williams’ script riffs on a smorgasbord of subjects – politics, vegetarianism, and toxic masculinity – though perhaps most pointedly critiques the rich’s industrious quest to soullessly acquire more and more wealth. Without giving too much away, the family’s home resides on a mineral hotbed which they are currently having dug up to tremendous monetary gain, a decision which has wider consequences than they could ever appreciate.
We’re basically half-way home before things get truly weird, as Jones begins to turn the screws and amp up the gross-out content, both gory and otherwise, while also providing vague hints at the precise nature of Cadi’s presence in the house.
As much as this all seems to be building to a suitably gnarly third act, it has to be said that the final reel is a crushing comedown. Compared to all the prior atmospheric unease, it strains itself to trot out heightened genre elements far too late in the game, defined by a slew of increasingly ridiculous incidents and a frustrating ending which quickly comes and goes without sufficient exploration. Unfortunately the initially subtle, airy tension eventually gives way to a deeply unsatisfying climax.
Though that disappointment sadly taints the overall viewing experience, one must at least tip their hat to the clear talents both in front of and behind the camera. The small cast is uniformly committed, though none more so than lead actress Annes Elwy, who is commanded to express so much of Cadi’s vague internal machinations through facial expressions alone.
Doing so without making her a mere hollow shade isn’t easy, but Elwy, who has just a handful of credits to her name, impressively rises to the challenge. Veteran actress Nia Roberts is also strong as Glenda, a trophy wife of-sorts who naturally doesn’t take too kindly to her carefully planned evening going so nauseatingly wayward.
Though held at the mercy of the script, Jones nevertheless proves himself a solid stylist here for the most part, DP Bjørn Ståle Bratberg making the best of both the expansive Welsh landscapes and confining home interiors. Gore effects, if fitfully deployed, are suitably repulsive, though the more gonzo aspects of the third reel – an occasional deference towards surreal montage – end up feeling a little sloppy and undisciplined compared to the more generally restrained aesthetic.
For around an hour of its runtime, The Feast has all the makings of a horror film to put Welsh-language cinema on the map, and while it may still do that to some degree, Jones’ frustrating inability to stick the landing – again, at the mercy of a script he didn’t write – quickly sucks the oxygen out of the enterprise just when it needs it most.
This well-mounted “eat the rich” parable begins strong, though becomes infinitely less interesting the more it reveals and, perhaps most bewilderingly, the more blood it lets.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.