Why do international filmmakers seem to more frequently turn horror lenses on environmental subjects while domestic creators care more about boogeymen and slashers? If Jaco Bouwer‘s Gaia wasn’t proof enough, what about its SXSW Midnighter counterpart, Lee Haven Jones’ The Feast? The Welsh thriller penned by Roger Williams merges woodland folklore and bloodthirsty revenge with Mother Earth as its reaper. It’s vastly more ruminative than Gaia since fairytale lyrics separate chapters throughout an elitist supper soiree. However, structure remains an issue that boasts gnarlier killing sprees upon a third act that sees and seethes the reddest of reds. Slow, still slow, slower, CARNAGE-CRAZY-RETRIBUTION, finito.
Tucked away behind forestation is a rural Wales countryside abode owned by wealthy socialites Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) and Glenda (Nia Roberts), inhabited by sons Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) and Guto (Steffan Cennydd). Gwyn’s Parliamentary nature of business requires him to host fancy dinner meet-ups that demand outside help, and tonight’s local assistant is Cadi (Annes Elwy), a woman of few words. Tasks are conventional—prepare courses, clean plates, keep wine glasses healthy—but the night swerves into aggravation when guest Euros (Rhodri Meilir) begins “talking shop” about buying residential land for industrial drilling sites. Neighbor Mair (Lisa Palfrey) recounts legends about what slumbers under the “Rise,” where Euros wants to expand. Gwyn and Glenda discount children’s fables—maybe they shouldn’t because nature is always listening for threats.
Cadi’s arrival is our introduction to Gwyn’s partner and brood, who long-ago sold their farmland to Euros in exchange for the modern pleasures since demolishing and rebuilding atop “outdated” bones. Cadi curiously inspects Gweirydd—who’s training for a triathlon after leaving his hospital position—and Guto—a London musician trapped at home after abusing narcotics—with a suspicious eye. Jones uses Cadi’s outsider perspective to ascribe distrust while introducing and analyzing the high-society characters, especially when prodding rich versus poor commentary that cares even less for our ecosystem. Perfection tainted; facades dirtied—not to suggest Cadi’s innocent, either.
As folkloric influences begin sprouting from underneath marble countertops and concrete foundations, The Feast ensnares viewers within secrets of underground caverns and closeted skeletons and scoffed-away fantasies. Cadi leaves mucky stains despite her hands being wiped-clean, while both Gweirydd and Guto cannot restrain inner demons from souring their parents’ important night. Lore propels what is not rationally explained as stringy strands of hair are yanked from mouths in J-Horror fashion or as micro-montages of treelines, flesh, and blood highlight psychological nightmarishness. That may or may not appease viewers expecting a more macabrely invigorated mealtime, but works as the albeit stretched-thin simmer building to an eventual explosion.
When The Feast increases its heat to broiling levels, essences of Gaia flow rivers of vengeance as sins personalize consequential demises for anyone foolish enough to challenge Mother Earth’s scorn. Axes swing, shotguns blast, and that’s just the beginning of hospitality gone bonkers. Jones undercuts pacing for so long until bodies are mangled, feeding becomes a frenzy, and the supernatural elements assure another guest has crashed Glenda’s sneaky celebration from beneath the soil. Gweirydd and Guto’s punishments are notably symbolic as Gweirydd endures fitting retribution based on his past sexual misconducts (wine bottle glass shard) and Guto ingests then injects foraged mushrooms into his veins that bring upon festering wounds. Kebab skewers become piercing drills, cannibalism becomes imagery du jour, and Jones leaves his mark as a horror visionary—but does it fit an otherwise timidly paced film overall?
I’m not particularly fond of narratives that drag viewers through quieter damnation before a finale spurt of madness. Still, The Feast remains eco-horror forward with high regard throughout, and that sure does help. It’s hard revealing which performance accomplishes the most as an avatar for soilborne comeuppance without getting far too deep into spoiler territory, so trust that Lee Haven Jones directs another worthwhile entry into the “TAKE CARE OF OUR PLANET OR ELSE” subgenre. This one seared around the edges as not to let (plentiful) juices escape and served with a side of classism that has corrupted idyllic landscapes by inviting abusers who wish to destroy the very planet we inhabit with their greed, consumerism, and generally malicious environmental disregard. This time? Our planet bites back.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10
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Author: Matt Donato
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March 22, 2021