Director: Lee Haven Jones
Stars: Annes Elwy, Nia Roberts, Julian Lewis Jones
There’s been a small but notable uptick in indie horror emanating from the rolling hills of Wales of late. Rose Glass’s caustic Saint Maud still lingers fresh in the mind some two years on, as does the video nasty vibrancy of Prano Bailey-Bond’s exceptional Censor. Going a step further, Lee Haven Jones’ offering – a more parochial, valleys-set story – is the first in this movement (? too soon?) to use the Welsh dialect throughout, emphasising the specificity of the setting.
Meet Glenda (Nia Roberts), wife of the local MP Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones), living a well-to-do life in a modern, sparsely furnished home secluded from much of the world. She’s preparing a dinner party. Gwyn’s out hunting rabbits for the starter. With a lot to do she’s hired a little help which arrives in the waifish form of Cadi (Annes Elwy); a local girl who seems skittish, reticent to speak, and a little accident prone.
Divided into chapters, The Feast elects a slow-burn cataloging of mysteries as we observe the character traits in the household. Also present are Glenda and Gwyn’s two sons; triathlon athlete in training Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) and drug-addled slacker Guto (Steffan Cennydd). Spoiled by the privilege that surrounds them, they are respectively creepy-as-balls and irksomely bratty. Cadi slinks fearfully between them, often leaving mysterious trails of mud in her wake.
Jones and DP Bjørn Ståle Bratberg have a strong preference for precise framing that favors extremes of either deep or shallow focus, electing to have either the background or foreground blurred out in order to both pick out and obscure. This, along with a tendency toward empty frames that hem details into corners, creates a consistent but formulaic aesthetic.
The Feast cleaves closely to a particular brand of self-serious horror that wields such clinical observation as oppressive and therefore troubling. Used effectively, it can evoke these feelings. But it’s recent prevalence, the unfriendly home depicted in this instance and the paucity of story means that The Feast comes to feel like the M&S version of a horror movie. A little too detached. A little too antiseptic. Jones’ gallery of rich, entitled humans encourage little-to-no sympathy, while Cadi’s inconsistent strangeness among them doesn’t curry favor either. We’re left with a coldly observed set of confused signals that don’t leave us anyone – or anything – to care for. Investment is tough.
Granted, when the gloves come off and the film tips it’s hand to the full, the contrast between this pristine delivery and the coarser, bloodier elements does deliver some mildly effective blows. But the urge to shock with the absurd or unsightly feels overplayed. A little too keen and lumpen (the broader message here, too, is entirely impossible to miss). A reveal involving a shard of glass feels like horror parody, while a throat slitting scene’s effectiveness is undone by the angle which gives away the supposed in-camera trick. It’s quite surprising that this, particularly, made it into the final cut. Ultimately, the most genuinely upsetting imagery in The Feast are the table manners exhibited by one of the family’s guests (Rhodri Meilir).
The final act delivers – however wonkily – on the perceived requirements of a horror picture, and there are flashes of genuine power in Jones’ delivery during this section of the movie. But one can’t shake the feeling that The Feast is riding the aesthetic coattails of a wave of recent, particularly European efforts, that have done all of this with more aplomb. Come the final shot, a fourth-wall break that might’ve felt daring instead reads as familiar, even cliché. Not the intention I’m sure.
The UK quad poster for The Feast entices us to watch promising that it “will leave you hungry for more”. This is true, in a sense. But the hunger comes from having been insufficiently fed.