As a television director who cut his teeth on Doctor Who, Lee Haven Jones knows how to use the Welsh landscape to create alien and intimidating environment. So then who better to introduce filmgoers to the concept of Welsh Folk Horror. Nightmarish rural-set films to match the likes of The Witch or Midsommar but with the rich, unique folklore and setting of Cymru. With the added twist of the entire script being in the Welsh language.
The plot recalls that of the more audacious class-commentary horrors such as You’re Next or Ready or Not. As a well-to-do family of farmers-turned-political heavyweights host a decadent dinner party with a neighbour and their business partner. The family, it transpires has done very well for themselves mining their land for precious minerals, even on the forbidden ‘rise’ which extends between the two farms. The titular feast is to convince their neighbour Mair (Lisa Palfrey) to allow exploratory mining to cross their borders. However Cadi (Annes Elwy), the young woman hired to cook and serve them seems to bring ill will upon the evening. One son drops an axe on his foot, causing a cut that quickly becomes horribly infected, another chokes on his food and the father is driven mad by a ringing that no one else can hear.
It’s an incredibly slow-burning horror, as though we are watching the foundations of this privileged family being slowly eroded, rather than torn apart. Like the cut on Guto’s (Steffan Cennydd) leg, the sense of tension and foreboding is minor but quickly begins to encompass the whole of the film. Cadi’s strange behaviour starts to spread to the rest of the family, there are scenes of heightened reality, the score building in intensity before cutting back to normality, as though nothing had happened. The Feast is more mood piece than a visceral home invasion. Not least because of the implication that Cadi may not be human but the personification of the land’s wrath.
It makes sense for The Feast to play out, aesthetically, as a mood piece. It’s themes of wealth and conservation are too lofty for a campy horror film. However its plot feels far too detailed, more a film that’s about atmosphere than story. The film spends a great deal of time expositing on the family and their various failings and how they have exploited their former farmstead. As though it activity wants you to long for their destruction. However when it comes, there’s no catharsis, no sense that a wrong has been righted. When death comes, the film takes on a sense of tragedy, asking us to mourn the people who have invited this blight into their lives.
This may in part be down to lack of a relatable lead; with the family all equally insufferable and Cadi being too inaccessible. Annes Elwy does what she can with the role but she’s hamstring by spending much of the runtime mute or behaving in incomprehensible ways. Despite brief hints to a mischievous nature and some background exposition we never get a real understanding of her motivations or feeling that she draws satisfaction from her reign of terror.
The Feast is a powerful freshman effort. An atmospheric film that demonstrates Jones ability to generate powerful foreboding and helplessness. However he’s working from a script that’s too dense for its own good. Operating at odds with the tone of the film.