Watch “The Feast” for a well-crafted cautionary tale rooted in Welsh folklore. [SXSW Film Festival]

The dinner table is a universal symbol of community, nourishment, and respite, but directors of horror movies often repurpose the place where people come together for a meal to create some of the most awkward and unsettling cinematic moments of all time. Recent examples include Get Out, Hereditary, and The Invitation. Director Lee Haven Jones (“Dr. Who”) adds to this rich tradition with the Welsh-language film, The Feast, written by Roger Williams (“Bang”), starring an all-Welsh cast.

Annes Elwy as Cadi in THE FEAST.

A politician’s wife, Glenda (Nia Roberts; “The Crown”) prepares for a dinner party her husband, Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones; Invictus), a Member of Parliament, has put together. Glenda hires Cadi, (Annes Elwy; King Arthur: Excalibur Rising) a local girl, to help prepare and serve the sumptuous meal. The couple’s two adult sons, Guto (Steffan Cennydd; “The Pembrokeshire Murders”) and Gweirydd (Siôn Alun Davies; “Hidden”) both reluctantly attend. The purpose of the dinner remains hidden until well into the film, but based on the eerie music score composed by Samuel Sim (“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance”) and the slow tracking shots through the home’s shadowy passageways, nothing good will ensue.

Cadi’s presence immediately disturbs the estranged members of the family in different ways, despite her quiet and obedient demeanor. But accidents seem to happen when she’s around, disrupting the ambiance of a perfectly ordered home and the pristine dining experience Glenda hope to create. Guto drops an axe head on his foot as he watches her walk, Gwyn begins to hear loud ringing noises in his ears, and mysterious dirt stains begin to appear on the freshly laundered tablecloth and on things Cadi touches, forcing Glenda to bring out items of her mother’s she had dismissed as being too shabby. As the preparations continue and the meal begins to be served, Cadi begins to gain influence in unexpected ways, forcing the family to acknowledge the secrets they’ve kept hidden and the roots they have tried to bury.

L-R: Annes Elwy as Cadi and Nia Roberts as Glenda in THE FEAST.

The Feast can be appreciated on multiple levels, each with its own kind of terror. On the surface, Jones builds a slow-burning dread using all the techniques expected from a horror film director. The sound design by Dom Corbisiero, paired with the already mentioned chilling score by Samuel Sims, provides an auditory experience that grates on the human ear, with sliding violins, metallic chains, and the high-pitched noises Gwyn hears when Cadi lingers near.  The internal corridors of the home add visual horror. The family lives in an opulent home made of glass and steel that stands out like a blister in the surrounding Welsh countryside. Long dark hallways and sharp corners create an environment resembling a prison, rather than a home. “It looks like a cell,” the last guest, Mair (Lisa Palfrey), says when Glenda shows her the room she uses to relax. And indeed, the camera often frames the characters in mirrors and through square openings, making the family seem trapped and boxed in their personal cages. As the dinner devolves into blood, gore, and primal behavior, viewers question what is really happening on screen.

At a time when fears about climate change remain at an all-time high, The Feast also serves as environmental horror. The family’s presence disrupts the land in every way possible. We learn and see how they treat the surrounding nature through hunting, drilling for minerals, and treating the motherland as a commodity.  The family stands for progress, culture, and industry. Cadi is everything the family is not, and by the end, nature, through Cadi, will have its revenge.

Annes Elwy as Cadi in THE FEAST.

At the root, however, The Feast serves as a cautionary tale against turning from the past and identity in favor of progress and greed. This film is a love letter to the people and culture of Wales, rooted in the Welsh myths about Blodeuwedd, a woman made of flowers who later gets turned into an owl. The people of Wales maintain a national identity separate from Great Britain proper, but the temptation always exists to integrate and lose that sense of pride. Glenda and her family serve as examples of what happens when you forget your identity. Before she became a politician’s wife, Glenda grew up a farmer’s daughter. Glenda has covered up that part of herself and pushed it away in favor of wealth and the power she imagines her husband possesses. The results on her family and the land her parents tilled and planted have been devastating. The song Cadi sings, a popular folk tune (which is quite an earworm) called “Watshia Di Dy Hun” meaning “You’d better watch out,” warns viewers, just as it does Glenda, who remembers hearing her mother sing the song.

The Feast checks all the boxes this viewer wants out of a psychological horror. The director takes his time building the dread inside a set with a strong sense of place, and memorable characters, a creepy soundtrack, and trippy visuals combine to create all the thrills and chills required. While the plot and much of the visual iconography stays in familiar territory, the story’s Welsh roots add an extra layer of interest, and the warnings to remember home and identity are universally relatable.

Premieres at SXSW 2021 on March 17th, 2021.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews, streaming

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