This review of The Feast is part of our coverage of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.
The dinner table has been home to more than a few genre outings, as it typically promises a warm, family-oriented setting unprepared for the violence to come. That holds true for the new Welsh chiller The Feast, and while the terror spills over beyond the dining room, it’s that homey, family dynamic that’s intentionally targeted.
Glenda (Nia Roberts) and her husband Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) are preparing for a dinner party, each in their own way. While she relaxes in their sauna and frets about a late maid, he heads into the woods surrounding their remote, state-of-the-art home to murder some rabbits for supper. Their sons Guto (Steffan Cennydd) and Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) are hanging about the estate barely concealing their disdain for the world around them. The former skulks around with an ax to grind and a craving for heroin and the other has become obsessed with his body in preparation for an upcoming race. The fact that all of their names start with the same letter is the least annoying thing about this family.
Into the house walks Cadi (Annes Elwy), a young woman from town hired as help for the dinner party, and it’s immediately clear that she’s put off by this family’s behaviors, attitudes, and disregard for the earth itself. Something’s off about her, too, and as Gwyn and Glenda work to lock up drilling rights with dinner guests, Cadi’s own motivations come clearer.
There can really never be enough eco-horror films, as they’re often both cathartic and morally empowering. The earth is our home, our only home, and those who abuse it deserve an invite to The Feast. Director Lee Haven Jones and writer Roger Williams craft a slow-burn tale of nature’s revenge here that also touches on class and family dynamics in its condemnation of those who walk over everyone and everything else in service of their own status, privilege, and bank account. Its pacing won’t be for all viewers, but those on its wavelength will savor its grim and juicy blend of terrors both human and otherwise.
The opening scene tilts its hand regarding something angry below, as a worker at a drill site falls to the ground, bleeding from his ears as the drill screams. Various threads are woven throughout, from the family’s dismissal of nature beyond what it can do for them to whispered legends about a stretch of land called “the Rise,” which mustn’t be disturbed. But at the heart of the film sits Cadi. More accurately, Cadi stares and walks her way through the elaborate house (and the film), revealing a lack of catering skills overshadowed by a critical curiosity towards the family’s excess and attitudes. Elwy’s expressions tease a simmering darkness beneath the blank stare, and small actions — an unsettling giggle, a cringe-worthy “pocketing” of a glass shard — make her as frightening as she is mesmerizing.
The family targeted in The Feast move through the day up to the meal oblivious to the danger in their midst, and that’s part of the film’s point. They’re so focused on themselves that the plights of others, from Cadi’s recent loss to the farmer’s wife invited to dinner solely to be talked into leasing her land, remain beyond their concern or interest. Delyth (Caroline Berry) is shown around the house by Glenda, who remains oblivious to the woman’s disinterest and disgust at the idea of wealth for wealth’s sake at the expense of the earth itself. They’re different people, and that might be enough to spare Delyth from wrath bubbling up from the dirt.
As mentioned, The Feast is a slow burn, but the filmmakers tease horror beats throughout that viewers know are building towards carnage. Cadi’s touch leaves dirt behind despite being clean, an intimate grooming scene leaves blood dripping into the water, a slimy businessman named Euros (Rhodri Meilir) puts half his hand in his mouth while eating — and we know more than dinner will be eaten before it’s all over. The Welsh language adds to the film as well, and while it isn’t unusual in general, an eco-horror film in the tongue benefits from its ancient feel and sound, which lends a primordial authority to the proceedings.
The Feast‘s third act builds to some gory bloodletting as the earth fights back using the only language people understand: violence. And it comes with all manner of grotesque visuals and destructive comeuppance. Getting there is slow-going, but attractive visuals and an unsettling atmosphere carry viewers towards a welcome justice.