The Feast, a Welsh-language horror film from director Lee Haven Jones and writer Roger Williams, took center stage at SXSW 2021 virtual edition this evening.
The film centers on a wealthy family preparing for a quiet dinner party at their modern, minimalist home in the Welsh countryside. The woman who normally helps the family for such gatherings is unavailable and sends her assistant Cadi (Annes Elwy) in her place. The young woman is unnaturally quiet and awkward from the first moment she arrives at the home, and as the evening progresses, it becomes clear she is much more than she seems to be.
The Feast exists in that sweet spot of folk horror where modernity forgets to respect the land and history of a region for the sake of wealth accumulation. Specifically here, there is an area of land the locals call the Rise. It is said that “she” sleeps there and to wake “her” from her slumber is to face her wrath.
In one of the most clever moves in Williams’s script, it is never explained exactly who or what this “she” is, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks for themselves. It adds a level of mystery to the piece, but also underscores the tale with an air of the ancient and powerful. In order to fully understand something, there must be a name. Denying us that, removes our power to defeat it.
The director assembled a talented cast for The Feast.
Julian Lewis Jones and Nia Roberts fill the roles of parents Gwyn and Glenda quite well. They are exactly what we expect them to be: polished, classy, and slightly out of touch with “common” things though Glenda, at least, admits to being raised on a farm.
Steffan Cennydd gives a believable performance as their son, Guto, who is trying and failing to overcome addiction. There is a palpable cloud of anger and rebellion around him at all times. He tests his parents and their rules constantly. They appear to put up with him because, despite his attitude and problems, he is by far the least troublesome of their sons.
That honor goes to Sion Alun Davies in the role of Gweirydd, a dangerous narcissist with the stare and behaviors of a predator.
Sadly, there is very little character development to be found here. They are all painted rather thin save for Glenda whose past is at least illuminated from time to time when she is skinning a rabbit for dinner or singing songs from her childhood.
This lack of development puts space between the film and its audience. We have very little reason to connect with them and thus we care very little when terrible things happen to them. It could be this was intentional. Williams could simply want us to believe that this wealthy family is nothing more than what we see from the outside and the cursory glimpses we get into their lives.
For her part, Elwy embodies Cadi well. She radiates an otherness in her silence and stillness that makes the moments when she actually speaks or suddenly becomes animated all the more powerful.
Where Williams wins, in my books, is telling this story in Welsh. It might sound strange to foreign ears at first, but watching and listening for an entire hour and a half underlines just how beautiful the language truly is. There is a depth and warmth to its consonants and vowels that makes one thing of fantastical stories in beautiful landscapes which is ultimately what The Feast is.
With moments of body horror, revenge horror, folk horror, and more, there is something altogether fairy tale-like about the film. I’m not talking about the cleaned-up, Disney-fied versions of those tales. I’m talking about stories collected by Grimm and Perrault. Dark stories whispered to children by firelight to remind them of the importance of honoring the land and the spirits that inhabit it.
Mark my words, The Feast is a film that we’ll be hearing more about in the months to come as more audiences have the opportunity to take in this interesting film.
For more folk horror goodness from SXSW, check out our review of Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched.