Folk horror is enjoying a massive resurgence these days. Things like Midsommar and The Witch have proven eerie, rural scares have a place in our modern sensibilities. But more than just witches or cults, I’ve loved seeing the influx of contemporary-set horror films that utilize a particular piece of folklore from whatever country makes the movie. I’m thinking of things like the 2019 Irish film The Hole in the Ground which played with the myth of the changeling. Another is the excellent Guatemalan film La Llorona which uses a myth of a ghostly woman to explore themes of real-world atrocities. Add Lee Haven Jones’s Welsh-language film The Feast to that austere company. It’s exceptionally creepy.
The Feast is a movie that really got under my skin. It’s an incredibly slow build that crescendos in one of the most brutal and effective final acts in any recent horror film. I’d never seen a movie, or much of anything, in the Welsh language. It has a beautiful, lyrical sound to it, which undercuts the growing dread that starts building from minute one. On the surface, it’s a movie about bougie rich people getting their comeuppance. Looking deeper, it reflects the growing disdain the Earth herself must have toward those who think so little of nature.
Set in an idyllic (quite modern) estate in the pastures of Wales, The Feast depicts the hours leading to a dinner party. The family who own the house are politician Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones), his socialite wife Glenda (Nia Roberts), and their two grown sons. Gweirydd (Sion Alun Jones) is an alpha male doctor who trains nonstop for an iron man competition. Guto (Steffan Cennydd) is a London hipster with substance abuse problems. The dinner party is a not-so-secret gathering of a land developer and local farmers so Gwyn and Glenda can broker a big development deal.
Enter into the equation Cadi (Annes Elwy), a local girl Glenda has hired to be the help for the event. We know something is up with Cadi immediately. We see her walk up to the house rather than drive; she has a dreamy, uneasy air about her. She almost never speaks, and anyone who’s paying attention (which the family is not) would clock that she’s a little off. Any time she finds herself alone, Cadi looks through the family’s belongings. She even tries on Glenda’s jewelry, laughing in the mirror.
The only time Cadi shows much emotion around the family is when Gwyn comes in with a pair of rabbits he shot for the meal. The sight of these dead animals causes Cadi to run out of the house, becoming violently ill and sobbing. The movie never hides the affinity Cadi has with the natural world. Instead, it holds back until almost the end to explain why and how. This allows the tension to ratchet up continuously as stranger and more disturbing things befall our unaware party.
Everyone in the movie is wonderful, but special commendations should go to Roberts who perfectly portrays both vulnerability and avarice; and Elwy who feels like she really is in a hypnotic daze throughout. This is not a movie that holds back anything, and the moments of gore and repulsion are shocking and prolonged, and so the cast needs to be able to ground it. They do so superbly.
Director Lee Haven Jones (whom you might know from his work on Doctor Who), shows a deft hand at the drama as well as the outright horror. He shows us a lot without it ever feeling gratuitous. And he manages to make some pretty unseemly characters sympathetic and even tragic.
The Feast is a movie well worth seeking out if the recent spate of horror appeals to you. It finds its own unique spin on the subject and will stay with you, and your psyche, long after it’s over. It just might make you reconsider your next rare steak.
The Feast hits theaters Friday, November 19.
4 out of 5