By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Starring Annes Elwy, Caroline Berry, and Steffan Cennydd
Written by Roger Williams
Directed by Lee Haven Jones
There are many lessons to be learned from horror films. Don’t run up the stairs when being chased by a manic with a deadly weapon. Don’t trust strangers in overalls. Don’t underestimate the Romani people. And, whatever you do, decline all invitations to dinner parties. THE FEAST might not be original in arguing that last one, but it is confident and brutal enough to earn its own place at that table.
The film begins with Cadi (Annes Elwy) arriving at a remote Welsh home to act as a server and kitchen help for a wealthy family’s dinner party. She is quiet and observant, and her timidness seems like a bit of a frustration at first for the lady of the house, Glenda (Nia Roberts) but she still puts Cadi right to work. It may be a cliche to say that a house is a character in a film, but it’s apt here regardless of how often it is said unnecessarily. This house is a glaring cement box on an idyllic, country hillside. It’s halls are long, dark, and narrow. It’s layout clunky and without natural flow. And aside from one massive painting in the kitchen that is a plot point, it is bare and beige. The contrast between that intentionally rigid space and the lush nature surrounding it is telling and reflective of the horrors that await these dining companions.
Like so many other dinner party horrors, THE FEAST takes its sweet time building up to the main course. Most of that time is spent observing Cadi observing the house, and Glenda’s two sons Gweirydd and Guto (Sion Alun Davies and Steffan Cennydd). While the generally anglo names of the women thus far might have not let on the fact that THE FEAST is not in English but in Welsh, the sons’ names are certainly a clue. That connection to the Welsh heritage of the language and the land figures prominently into the ways that this ultra rich family are punished for their greed and disrespect.
Cadi is an odd one, but not so strange that she raises any major red flags at first. She is shy and creeps around, but what is the harm in that? Glenda and her sons have more than enough personality for this small social affair. Cadi’s frequent trips outside to the fields and woods might just be her soaking in the novelty of the countryside. Elwy is called upon to carry most of the atmosphere and tension in THE FEAST with her performance and presence. Cadi is, by design, quite difficult to read, and she makes this mysterious character both aloof and enough of a blank slate to appear trustworthy. As things begin to spiral toward darkness, she maintains decorum and occupies the frame with a confidence that is spellbinding.
Ultimately THE FEAST is a horror story that takes on colossal issues, but places them around a small dinner table. Business and integrity, nature and architecture, old gods and new money, all simmer in unbalanced tension underneath the table, the house, and the hill, until there is too much to be contained. The outcome is indulgently grotesque and unapologetically violent.