Lee Haven Jones’ The Feast is a slow burn of psychological torment that ends in a crescendo of bloody vengeance. The Welsh language folk horror film builds slowly to a triumphant crescendo of mayhem and gleeful bloodshed. The lilting, guttural sound of the Welsh language is as foreign and gorgeous as the idyllic setting. The opening scene alone conveys a message that this will be a scathing moral nightmare. A drill moans and screams as it empties the Earth of its life’s blood. A staggering bleeding body reminds us we aren’t the most powerful force, no matter what we think. That’s just one of many messages in Jones’ film which manages to be thoughtful, unpretentious, and horrifying.
Glenda(Nia Roberts) is a pompous politician’s wife hosting a small dinner party to help line her own pockets even further. Her children are troubled young men, each with their vices. Guto(Steffan Cennydd) is there against his will after a heroin overdose. He spends his time skulking about and desperately sniffing any chemicals he comes across. Gweirydd(Siôn Alun Davies) is a creepy little ghoul of a manchild training for a triathlon while fetishizing his own lycra-covered body. He is a disgraced doctor who has skeletons in his closet as we later find out. Father Gwyn is a corrupt politician who has no problem stealing things from others. Whether that is land rights, the majesty of nature, or someone’s rabbits, he is a willing thief.
The Feast is about broken people who destroy themselves as much as the Earth. All four members of the family are damaged. Everyone lies. Glenda is so caught up in preserving her youth and image she has forgotten the simple pleasure and beauty of the land she was raised on. Newcomer Cadi(Annes Elwy) has come to help Glenda prepare the dinner. She is an outlier that should raise alarm bells.
Cadi’s uncomfortableness and oddity might warrant examination if everyone wasn’t so self-centered. These are terrible people caught up in their own needs and insecurities. The sons are suspended in youthful animation by parents who both belittle them for being immature yet do all the wrong things to allow them to grow. They shuffle through life aimlessly, wasting their privilege all while lamenting the parents who gave it to them. Gwynn stalks the countryside like a primitive man with as much prowess as the “wild boys” who pretend play at Survivor Man, and Glenda is coldly disdainful of anything that came before her current joyless life. She hates to be reminded of her childhood and the lovely farm that has been replaced by the slickly modernist sculpture of a house which is more a monument to consumerism than a mastery of architecture celebrating nature.
Instead, Cadi arrives a wet, bedraggled, nearly mute, meek girl who appears to be as vulnerable as the rabbits Gwyn stole. Quickly her confused persona evolves into something stranger, more powerful, and terrifying. She becomes a raging, gorgeous extension of Mother Earth there to enact justice one way or another. She exudes nature. It seeps out of her pores in muddy stains and trails of loamy dirt.
Near the thirty-minute mark, Cadi switches from frightened quarry to controlled predator. Calamities happen all around her to this awful family with foot wounds and genital knicks that are as quietly gruesome as they are tense. Yet, there’s a knowing quality to Cadi’s attention that speaks of ancient power and uncontrollable forces. When Gwyn wolfishly confronts Cadi, inexplicable pain overcomes his ears. Cadi takes a large shard of glass and inserts it in unspeakable places, and the question becomes not who is she, but what is she? Elwy’s dead-eyed stare becomes the cold, knowing look of inevitability. She gives a powerhouse performance that runs the gamut from helpless to intensely potent in the blink of an eye. Elwy stares into your soul, daring you to save her or be torn apart by her. It is disconcerting, to say the least.
In the last of five acts in The Feast, everyone’s flaws come full circle in a gory, gag-inducing bit of horror movie spectacle that makes the very most of a small budget. Jones’s carefully chooses what to show and what to leave to the imagination making the effects more impactful. Between elements of body horror and physical gags so repulsive you shouldn’t eat while watching The Feast, it is a nasty little piece of work that horror fans should gladly lap up.
The house our family is so proud of is captured in cruel stark shots of every kind of natural substance that has been warped and molded by humans. Instead of making things feel organic and soulful, the home only feels cold and sterile as Glenda sits and meditates on her superficial beauty in what late dinner guest Mair rightly refers to as a cell. This bizarre black hole of a space utterly devoid of beauty or light is a blunt metaphor for what the family has become.
Hard, lifeless, and cold, they are dead to their failings and the consequences to the world they leech off of like parasites. Mair is the lone counterpoint to the terror of The Feast. Her practical, kind approach to both her past and the present speaks of respect and appreciation. As someone who has known Glenda since she was a child, the two should share a comfortable familiarity, but they are only awkward.
Jone’s skewers the allure and elitism of newfound money and power. When Mair is approached about selling her farm to the rapacious Euros, Gwyn’s partner in crime, she quietly demurs, to which Glenda is derisive and contemptuous. How dare she not want to live the same wealthy but joyless life she pretends to enjoy. Mair is still the humble egalitarian content with her life and the natural pleasure her land brings her, while Glenda is embarrassed by the “primitive” quality of her mother’s old things. There are clear consumers and conservationists, and it is obvious which camp everyone is in. Mair’s flowered frock is not nearly as chic as the stylish dress that was one of many designer things covered in plastic in Glenda’s closet.
Camera work by Bjorn Bratberg is voyeuristic as it stalks through barely opened windows and doors and down long, severe hallways. If it feels icky, that’s by design. This is a terrible place filled with equally terrible people. By contrast, the verdant lush green countryside is as beautiful and vibrant as any wild, untouched setting is the backdrop for something as deliciously cruel. It’s no coincidence that this fancy meal is a feast for the senses and for a macabre sense of equity. A giant knarled dead tree trunk reminds us that there is beauty and purpose even in death.
Samuel Sim’s engrossing soundscape lulls and lilts until it pierces with guttural insanity. The engulfing noise is a force of nature that gives everything a dream-like feeling until that dark dream becomes a disturbing nightmare of meted-out justice and bloody supernatural vengeance.
Content to revel in our discomfort, The Feast is unsettling and grim before it culminates in a triumphant gory victory that takes no prisoners. The remainder of the film is a tight rope act of repulsive behavior and grisly comedic horror. At one point, while chaos is reigning, the piggish Euros(Rhodri Meilir) is literally lapping away at his meal like the porcine reference he is parodying.
The Feast is indulgent, but not to a fault. This mindful, plodding film punishes with its violence as well as rewards with its fairness. The Feast isn’t a subtle film. It strikes deep and with gusto at the heart of greed and contempt. The majesty of the Welsh countryside tricks you into a false sense of peace before the brutal and bloody final act leaves no stone unturned and no man standing. For fans of folk horror, The Feast is deeply affecting and intensely scary. It is out everywhere you stream movies on Friday, November 19th, 2021.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.