Rich people gather in a remote country house in a trippy arthouse tale that excels visually but is let down by obvious writing
Despite being one of the official languages of the United Kingdom, it’s rare that a Welsh-language film will actually secure a theatrical release. Enter The Feast, an arthouse horror in which the countryside upper classes come face-to-face with their environmentally-destructive greed. The film is interesting but inconsistent – for every excellent idea there is a dud, and for every moment of enticing visual imagination, something leaden and shy.
We follow Cadi (Annes Elwy), a mysterious young woman who is hired to help cater a dinner party held by Glenda (Nia Roberts) and her Westminster politician Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones). The couple have two wastrel sons – musician-junkie Guto (Steffan Cennydd) and failed medical student Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) – and the guests include mining prospector Euros (Rhodri Meilir) and neighbouring farm owner Mair (Lisa Palfrey), invited to entice her into allowing drilling on her land. Naturally, though, things start going awry the moment everyone is seated, paving the way for a horrendous mushroom trip with an eco-friendly message.
The film’s strengths lie in its visuals. First time feature director Lee Haven-Jones, a long-time director across both Welsh and English television, makes great use of the widescreen aspect ratio to accentuate the dry modern dullness of the newly-built country house in which the film takes place. It feels like a prefab house but built to the most expensive specifications, an alien ship landing in the otherwise bucolic Welsh countryside. Characters are often framed in the extremities of the screen, as to accentuate the awkwardness of the house in the natural landscape. It might bear all the stylistic tropes of the modern arthouse horror – the sterility, the brooding atmosphere, the last-act bloodletting – but it does so with confidence.
Where the film struggles most is in the writing. The eco-fable at the heart of the film is not understated in the slightest. It is writ large and is head-thuddingly obvious: what is it with these arthouse horrors, your Saint Mauds and your Midsommars, and their inability to produce any real sense of mystery or unknowability, only a central thesis that is spelt out in the final minutes so the audience goes home feeling clever about themselves?
The film also lacks specificity, too – the locations and characters might all be Welsh, but it's a generic type of Welshness, the house simply sitting on an undefined hill (for all its brooding self-seriousness, the bilingual TV series Hinterland/Y Gwyll did a great job of specifying location, heightening its impact as a result). And while the victims here might all be smug rich folk who get a deserved and satisfying comeuppance, these characters could have used a bit more depth in order to really make us feel.
Still, as with most Welsh-language productions confined to S4C, the channel who have seen success moving into prestige bilingual television with shows like the aforementioned Hinterland and Keeping Faith/Un Bore Mercher, The Feast marks a welcome shift forward. It might have plentiful flaws, but this remains a very well-shot and elegant film, the mysterious atmosphere of the first half giving way to some gruesomely enticing images in the second.
The Feast is released in UK cinemas on 19 August.Where to watch