The Feast (SXSW 2021 Movie Review)

The Feast (SXSW 2021 Movie Review)
8 10

the feast, review, sxsw,

PLOT: A wealthy family prepares to throw a dinner party for their friends, but a suspicious new servant could turn their gathering into a doomsday. 

REVIEW:  How do you like your eat-the-rich parables? With a constant, slow burn? Featuring spouts of cringy, gory violence? How about topped off with a ghost story that makes it even more mysterious? Then The Feast from Welsh filmmaker Lee Haven Jones and writer Roger Williams is just the event for you because all that and more is weaved into an intoxicating blend of intrigue and escalating dread that’s best served on an empty stomach and with a stiff drink in hand. 

Set against the backdrop of the scenic Welsh countryside, a wealthy family in a minimalist, expensive home prepare for a lovely dinner gathering, and one by one, we’re introduced to each member and get hints at what makes them all so terrible. There’s Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies), the self-obsessed sociopath who loves the feel of his own pale skin; Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones), the politician father who uses his access for financial gain; Guto (Steffan Cennydd), the drug-addicted rebel who seems to hate everyone and; Glenda (Nia Roberts), who has become so image-obsessed she’s willing to forsake her humble upbringings, and the people a part of it. Altogether they're a doomed lot who have their life slowly but surely upended by the arrival of a quietly creepy servant, Cadi (Annes Elwy). 

Despite the expanse of scenery on the outside, Jones instantly sets the claustrophobic tone by making the narrow hallways and sharp edges of the modern home feel confining and loaded with tension. Everyone has their own space for the first half, but you can feel their toxic energies even when they're not on screen. With the familiar tensions established, what really drives the chills is Cadi, who is practically alien in this world. When left alone, she basks in the refinement of tablecloths, runs her fingers along fine wine glasses, and tries on Glenda’s jewelry just to feel what it’s like to be fancy. She wretches at the sight of a pair of dead rabbits, and little by little we’re shown that she couldn’t be more and more not of this world. Elwy is utterly absorbing as Cadi, and even when she’s being stoic and unnerving, staring at these people around her with studiousness, Elwy gives her a vulnerability and innocence you can’t help but be drawn to. You know she will be the source of much terror going forward, and it’s hard not to root for her. 

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Indeed, strange things do start to happen, and what breaks up the monotony of the slow build-up towards the titular feast is the unraveling of weird events happening to each of the families – as if a force is killing them from the inside. Between the true nature of Cadi and what her presence is doing to everyone, there is so much suspense dripping from scene to scene, with Jones having a firm grasp on how to ever-so-carefully set up the tension that will eventually hit a big payoff. Of course, veteran horror fans may know what kind of payoff is in store from the moment they hit “Play,” albeit the journey they’re taken on will make it no less effective. 

With his script, Williams doesn’t lay everything out in a neat bow to guide audiences, but along with Jones’ assured direction, every crumb of story detail placed along the way makes the gruesome finale as rich in thematic heft as it is bountiful gore. This family has done more harm than good to their countryside and intends on using their dinner to talk their neighbor, Mair (Lisa Palfrey), into letting them do it more. What they get coming to them is what they deserve, with a shocking layer of vengeance added on to a buffet of slow-burn terror.

Even if that slow burn isn’t your cup of tea, or if you feel like the setting has been done before or the nature of the conclusion a bit too predictable, there is still so much value here. It’s crafted head-to-toe with terrific performances, perfectly executed tension and dread, and even a progressing bizarreness that will keep you on your toes. As I write this the movie is premiering at the South By Southwest film festival, and who knows when audiences will be able to see it outside of there, but so far it’s one of the best horror offerings I’ve seen all year. Be sure to keep it on your menu

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