The Feast opens with an unexplained death on a mining site, then cuts to the severity of a Modernist vacation home in rural Wales. The drilling site is hazy, dirty work, while the spotless home is the height of decorator approved chic. Yet, in the eye of director Lee Haven Jones’ carefully considered camera, it is genuinely hard to tell which of the two is the bigger blight on the surrounding countryside. What should be luxurious is all concrete angles and glass corners, a prix fixe status symbol that is more claustrophobic than welcoming, a house that isn’t a home.
The impression of imprisonment is only heightened when the audience meets the home’s owners, who have gathered at the rural retreat for a lavish dinner party. Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) is a politician more interested in the bragging rights of his day’s hunting than he is in actually spending time with his family. His wife, Glenda (Nia Roberts), is throughly absorbed in her new money quest to keep up the appearance of perfection for the arriving guests. This includes forcing her two sons to attend this forced attempt at merriment. Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) is a self obsessed triathlete, while Guto (Steffan Cennydd) is a sulky addict.
Each family member is a different type of toxic, resentment filling the air when they aren’t being selfish, passive aggressive or some combination of both. Everyone’s so caught up in their own manias, the group doesn’t notice that hired help Cadi’s (Annes Elwy) somnambulant air barely manages to cover something far worse lurking behind her eyes.
Lee Haven Jones has had success as both an actor and director for television, and his experience gives The Feast a far more polished air than many feature film debuts. There’s visual style to spare in almost every frame, from the wind whipping through lonely trees behind the house to an excellent blink and you’ll miss it moment of blood droplets delicately rippling into bathwater. The color palette is all soft earth tones and misty fading daylight, except for Glenda’s charcoal colored “retreat”. If the house itself is a prison, her pitch black meditation room is solitary confinement in the guise of self care.
Haven Jones is also a fine director of actors, and the interplay between Nia Roberts brittle trophy wife and the pathologically shy Cadi is disquieting long before anything even remotely bloody happens. As for Cadi, Annes Elwy is captivating in a nearly silent role. There’s something eerie in her languid body language, and the almost beatific look to her delicate features becomes all the more unsettling as she creeps wordlessly through the halls, lingering just long enough to catch each member of the family at their private worst. The Feast is a film that trades heavily in the dreadful hiding beneath the ordinary, and it is the character of Cadi who goes the furthest to create an atmosphere of the otherworldly.
A strong ensemble cast and a polished visual aesthetic help keep this slow burn moving through the chamber drama stylings of its first act, but The Feast‘s main stumbling block may be its own script, which telegraphs too much too early. The opening juxtaposition lets the audience know they’re in eco horror territory, and the first act is an effective slow burn as to how precisely those themes might play out. This initial buildup is deflated by the leading (and rather unnecessary) chapter titles, events that are less clever than they aspire to be (the guest of honor at the party is literally named Euros), and a third act turn toward folk horror that kneecaps its own power with an underdone mythos.
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Morality plays and parables are often are more effective in shorter formats for a reason. The Feast only lets us get to know its family of characters as the archetypes of their worst impulses, all the better for their eventual ironically fitting retributions for those sins. Genre fans will likely see The Feast‘s major plot beats coming, and the second act grinds the tension to a halt while the characters catch up to forgone narrative conclusions. Cadi isn’t all she seems, and bloody comeuppance awaits the family for their greedy consumerism.
The Feast‘s strong performances and well developed visuals keep it from being entirely empty calories. The last 20 minutes deliver karmic payback in a package of creatively executed gore. The violence is disquieting for its concepts as much as it is for its practical effects, but the resolution doesn’t fully justify the waiting around in well trodden territory it took to get there. The glacial pacing and unsteady narrative tension keep The Feast in the realm of the merely good, with flashes of brilliance occasionally lurking in the mist. Consider this first effort a slight victory of style over substance, and look forward to what Lee Haven Jones could accomplish if his next film’s script has more meat on the bone.
WICKED RATING: 7/10