SXSW 2021: THE FEAST Review – A Gory, Sumptuous Welsh Feast
Read Chad Collins 4-Star review of THE FEAST from SXSW!
Starring Anne Elwy and Nia Roberts
Written by Roger Williams
Directed by Lee Haven Jones
Synopsis: 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 realize they are about to eat their last supper.
Prepare to be disgusted and awestruck. The Feast, the debut feature from Welsh television director Lee Haven Jones, is a tempest of grotesque imagery, a man versus nature stage play in a Grand Guignol auditorium. With quick flashes of violence and the kind of bodily expulsions that will make even the most steadfast of genre veterans wince, this allegorical fable– something along the lines of Hannibal meets Dogtooth– is a raucous descent into crimson savagery. The Feast is a movie hellbent on serving severed limbs and writhing maggots– a feast of the macabre and fetid– for any audience willing to eat it up.
Written by Roger Williams, The Feast begins with a cryptic and hazy shot of a man stumbling away from a drilling site before dropping dead, a river of blood running from his ears. Focus then shifts to a gorgeous manor in rural Wales where Glenda (Nia Roberts), mother to two of this year’s strangest screen fledglings, is preparing for a dinner party. She starts her day in, as her friend Mair (Lisa Palfrey) will later call it, a “cell,” a commodious meditation chamber with lean lighting and pitch-black walls. “It’s a retreat,” Glenda remarks later in the film, from the freneticism of the city. Wise audiences know better. Not unlike Plato’s cave, it’s little more than four rooms erected to conceal the horrific environmental abuse her family has cultivated in pursuit of untold riches.
Cadi, a server at a local pub, soon arrives, staggering toward the property line like the living dead. Glenda has hired her to assist with the dinner while her husband (Julian Lewis Jones) kills rabbits in the woods and her children, Guto (Steffan Cennydd) and Gweirydd (Siôn Alun Davies) float around like ghosts, carcasses of human beings merely waiting for their parents to die and the limitless stream of income to become theirs. Early scenes are uneven on account of Lanthimos levels of eccentricity in overeager hands. Nothing seems off-kilter because everything is punctuated with such artificial mystique. Gweirydd gropes his crotch in his introduction while Glenda vacillates between outright hostility and maternal tenderness, oftentimes within the same scene. Then, of course, there’s interloper Cadi. With greasy, stiff locks and a piercing, sinister glare, she, too, is a veritable intruder from the outset, though everyone else is too self-involved to notice. Nothing is strange because everything is.
Jones and Williams collectively, perhaps cognizant of what an upper-crust satire must do in a post-Parasite world, course-correct soon enough, signified by a new chapter title (yes, like so many contemporary horror fables, The Feast is structured around chapters) and a sporadic vignette of decontextualized gore and a buffet of butchery. Then, the dinner guests arrive, and Jones unleashes a torrent of cannibalistic body horror.
Dangling threads are unraveled, and the overarching mystery is pulled into focus. Objective answers are luckily left to a minimum, with The Feast instead opting, like an appetizer, small morsels of clarity, just enough to put it together without compromising the alluring uncertainty. There are mythic allusions to women in the rise and specters of the deceased haunting the grounds. The frights are both of this world and born of something beyond, an intoxicating tonic for those who like their bloodshed with a side dish of folkloric grandeur.
Of note, though not unique to The Feast, is the use of subtitles. With Welsh dialogue, the subtitles are hardcoded in small, white font. A symptom of too many international features released stateside, the subtitles are inexorably difficult to read, and resultantly, some scenes lose their impact simply on account of straining to read what’s being said. Kudos must be given to The Feast, though, because what’s there to read is worth reading– a mixture of indie realism dripping with verisimilitude and heightened, arthouse ambiguity.
While rough in parts, The Feast is a delightful, sumptuous dish from start to finish. There’s a cunning sense of mischief and perversion throughout, and in Jones’s hands, an assured control of rapidly shifting tones and slow-roasted violence. Replete with violence, sexual deviancy, and the deaths of not-so-innocents, it’s a fable for the ages. Though contrived at the start and plagued with a few nagging accessibility issues, The Feast is a disturbing tale brought to life with frightening verve. Deliberately cold yet delicious, The Feast is one meal you’ll savor for weeks.
A deliciously dark and gory fable, The Feast is Welsh horror served just right.