“After you’ve taken everything, what will be left?” That’s the very real question asked at the heart of THE FEAST’s very surreal dinner party. It’s both a question that gets answered on the macro level as the planet we are collectively abusing – or, at least, the spirits that occupy it – start fighting back, and also on the micro level in a very local tale of two farming families, one determined to drive maximum profit from their inherited estate, no matter what the cost.
What we get served in this Welsh-language horror show is an elaborate set up for a grand guignol finale, as the matriarch of a modern new house in the Welsh countryside (Caroline Berry) prepares for a dinner party that’s part extravagance, part sting operation. And what a house, all sleek architecture and modernity, a micro budget version of the one from PARASITE perhaps. Expansive corridors, endless glass and even an indoors meditation chamber are almost amplified to the status of character in the film, dramatically brought to life by aggressive precision in the foley, every scrape, scratch and chop amplified to an uncomfortable degree.
In the middle of it all we have the eerily quiet figure of Cadi (Annes Elwy), the hired help for the night and a mysterious well of considerable depths. The family she serves are a nightmare – parents and two adult sons of in-determinate age – each harbouring a dark secret and a deep resentment for each other (“They’ll stalk the face of the earth for ages. Like vampires”) and this place (rejecting the “primitivism” of their past). Performances are heightened, from the shaved smooth, lycra-clad junior rapist (Sion Alun Davies) to one of their guests, a greasy financial advisor from accounts (Rhodri Meilir). The only natural – neutral? – character is their other guest from a neighbouring farm, Lisa Palfrey’s performance an exercise in quietly spoken contrast.
To say more would be to give too much of the deliciously ripe melodrama away, but needless to say, the dining table gets laid, the rabbits get skinned, and all hell breaks loose. And THE FEAST isn’t afraid to go for it, from the bad taste flourishes in the satire (anyone for stewed rabbit with a “tropical fruit salsa”?) to the mutilation that arises from the wrath of a casually promiscuous Mother Nature. The only disappointment is in the delivery of some of the gory detail. One shock effect looks exactly like it probably was: a cup of blood thrown in the actor’s face from just off camera. Another – a sliced throat – runs prematurely dry. In this genus of horror, the sleight of hand always matters, as it’s the dinner party trick from which we reap our rewards.
In his introduction, director Lee Haven Jones stressed his desire to make a horror film that was “singularly Welsh” in theme and feel, whilst also wanting to speak to a wider, European audience. He also hoped the film would spark an interest in Welsh cinema more broadly and Welsh-language cinema specifically, giving wider resonance to his parting invitation: “I hope you enjoy what’s on the menu”.
In brief: Lee Haven Jones’ Welsh-language horror show THE FEAST aka Gwledd pits urban greed against the forces of nature. The film screened in the First Film Competition of the 65th BFI London Film Festival at Curzon Mayfair (09 OCT 2021).
An earlier version of this review was posted at radiantcircus.com.