Lee Haven-Jones delectable folk horror blends themes of gentrification and environmentalism with a strong and unsettling narrative. The result is a film that feels both contemporary and mythical, and both local and universal.
The home-invasion plot is relatively straightforward: preening and aloof Glenda (Nia Roberts) and her husband, the arrogant and corrupt MP Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) are hosting a dinner party in their luxurious modern house in the green Welsh countryside shared with their two sons, dropout Guto (Steffan Cennydd) and creepy triathlete Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies). Gwyn has employed Cadi (Annes Elwy), a jittery and slightly detached young woman from the local pub, to help prepare and serve the meal.
The film starts in a near silent, clinical style, reflecting the cold glass-and-steel architecture of the family home. The atomised aspirational family in their country citadel seem out of place, detached from the community despite their local roots here. They’re merely visiting, a retreat from their new-money London lives. The self-absorbed family members could almost be characters from a George Lanthimos film, with a detachment and insulated weird quirkiness. The family’s oddness is seen from Cadi’s perspective and she’s by far the most sympathetic character, but the viewer is equally fascinated by Cadi herself. There’s something a bit off about her. Annes Elwy portrays her as sensitive, reticent and otherworldly, prone to peculiar behaviour and reactions, often zoning out as if she’s not fully present, and reacting skittishly to the rabbits that Gwyn has shot as well as the gunshots themselves. She wanders the house like an alien presence, examining the contents.
As the canapes are carefully assembled and the rabbits skinned, director Haven-Jones slowly builds up the tension and strangeness. The narrative in The Feast centres around preparations for the meal, and not everything that is consumed is entirely wholesome.
There are hints of Pasolini’s Teorema in the way Cadi beguiles the entire household. The hyper-sexed sportsman Gweirydd endlessly exercising in his bedroom is physically attracted to her, Guto finds in her a potential drug buddy, Gwyn flirts with her and Glenda bonds with Cadi over a long-forgotten Welsh pop song. There are also elements of Bunuelian visceral and surreal gluttony.
But then Haven-Jones gradually ramps up the horror as Cadi’s behaviour becomes increasingly threatening. Minor acts of sabotage become increasingly extreme with glacially sharp knives, scalding steam, a dropped axe head, a smashed wine bottle, psychoactive wild mushrooms and contaminated food all playing their increasingly gruesome roles. But this is no cheap grand guignol schlockfest. It retains an unsettling and mesmerising atmosphere as it explores themes around class, identity, environmentalism and more.
The film is particularly impressive in its narrative control, it begins understated and slowly unfolds, revealing its details bit-by-bit. In the same way as the violence and horror gradually builds, so are we slowly fed titbits of information, layering a richer flavour of the characters’ situation and background, and of what’s really going on.
Bjorn Stale Bratberg’s cinematography is beautifully crystalline, making the most of the diffuse Welsh light. The rich greens of the fields and forests contrast with the modernity of the minimalist family home, all grey concrete, pale glass and embedded spotlights. The crisp widescreen framing is beautifully composed and balanced, somehow expressing a strange detachment, and he makes the most of the limited set. The film is almost entirely shot in the home and the surrounding land. Bratberg’s camera takes us down narrow symmetrical hallways, voyeuristically looking through doors left ajar at the occupant’s private, tawdry obsessions. Or else wandering us through misty, dense gnarly forests and lush, damp green fields.
The crew found a gem of a location, the home is both pretentious and creepily cold – and it’s available to rent should you ever wish to recreate the horrors this film contains! Much the same way as the house in Parasite expresses the opulence and insensitivity of its middle-class occupants, this home is a space more likely to be admired than enjoyed. One room in particular stands out, a disproportionately tall, narrow preposterous contemplation room, walled in by dark concrete and open to the elements above, and of course the film makers took good advantage of this serendipitous find.
This is fitting for The Feast takes on existential themes. Each of the familiy members is confronted by their individual flaws and vices. And just as the austere brushed-steel house stands in fragile defiance to the surrounding nature, so the middle-class family is disdainful in their vulgar pretention; deliberately detached from their own roots, adrift and insecure.
The film uses many folk horror ingredients; nature and heritage are strong elements. And while the themes of environmentalism and class are universal, The Feast is also strongly rooted in its Welsh foundations. It shouldn’t be pigeonholed or defined primarily by its origins, though it’s notable that the entire production is Welsh, as is virtually all the dialogue. The filmmakers said elements are inspired by Welsh myths such as the Mabinogi, and there’s a strong sense of Welsh culture that gives the film a particular identity, almost in contrast to the pristinely modern visual and aural style.
There’s a lot of gruesome fun to be had watching this dysfunctional and repellent family get its comeuppance as the situation escalates. This film doesn’t feature wild plot twists or jump scares, instead it’s a slow-cooked, strongly flavoured delight. I genuinely couldn’t predict how the proceedings would unfold and, with its wit, style and bold execution, The Feast was a very satisfying meal.Follow @davefilmblog