Premiering in the Midnighters section at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, The Feast is certainly a movie that will keep you up at night. Set in the Welsh countryside, a wealthy family gets more than they bargained for when they allow a mysterious stranger into their home to be their server for a dinner party. The family have invited over a shady businessman and a local farmer in an attempt to forge a deal that will allow them to reap the benefits of destroying the landscape around the property, and nature certainly has a way of fighting back.
Welshmen Lee Haven Jones and Roger Williams directed and wrote the film, respectively, after years of working primarily on television series, and the two clearly had a vision that needed to be brought to the cinema. Jones’ use of space is exquisite, finding the perfect home in which to set this slow descent into hell over the course of the night. The film catches your attention right from the start, with nearly ten minutes of us silently watching the characters moving around one another inside and outside the home before a single word of dialogue is spoken. Without putting too fine of a point on it, we immediately understand that this family’s privilege has essentially sealed them off from the world, trapped in a prison of their own making.
As we see more of their interactions with the server Cadi (a remarkable Annes Elwy) and the neighbor Mair (Lisa Palfrey), we understand more and more how The Feast is functioning as a commentary on class division; how these people have positioned themselves in this ivory tower where the rest of the world is beneath them, easily movable to their whims and desires. The lower class characters become as insignificant to them as the land that they’re on, and equally as usable for their own gain with no regard for anyone but themselves.
Being from Wales, there’s a cultural specificity to what Jones and Williams are presenting here. You’re intrigued right away by the fact that the title card presents the title in Welsh, a language we’re not used to seeing or hearing on screen. The divide between Wales and England is a significant undercurrent in the film, for those who are aware of that rich history, but even without that knowledge of the culture this is a story whose themes can be translated universally. Anyone will be able to connect to what this story is saying about the exploitation of the land and the people who inhabit it by the upper class, whose world revolves so entirely around them that they aren’t even capable of processing anyone else anymore.
While the metaphors of the film are well worth digging into, The Feast is also a remarkable experience on a surface level as well for anyone who appreciates good horror. In both the script and the direction the escalation is expertly calibrated, starting squarely as a domestic drama and slowly dripping in these horror elements as we move through the night. It creates this crosspoint between Yorgos Lanthimos and Robin Hardy, where the land is as untrustworthy as the social environment, and you begin to question just who the true “villains” are. Jones has crafted some spectacularly gruesome imagery, delivering this ironic grime and dirt splashed against the sterile, cool environment inside the house. There are several moments in the film that ingrain themselves in your head so effectively that you might not be able to eat properly the next day. But hey, at least you’re not a member of this family.