The Feast (2021) is a disappointingly incoherent film that focuses a lot on the foreboding part without actually delivering the much-needed climax. It’s a lot of fuss for a paper-thin plot.
A well-situated family of four – parents with two adult sons – prepare for a dinner party they’re throwing. The lady of the house Delyth (Caroline Berry) hires help for the night. Cadi (Annys Elwy), a girl recommended by Delyth’s previous assistant, seems less keen on actually aiding with the preparations as there’s a different agenda on her mind for tonight.
From the way the initial premise’s sold, Lee Haven Jones seems to have had his own take on Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite (2019) in the mind, however, combined with a calm-before-the-storm scheme. Cadi walks around the house, peeks at the life of the family; she cuts the slack whenever someone’s willing to chat with her. Through her eyes, we learn about dirty facts, although the characters are thin and have very little to actually dredge up. Nonetheless, Cadi disturbs the house order, and Jones slowly builds the mystery around the dark-haired girl.
Assuming that Jones aimed for a kind of class-based vivisection, The Feast (2021) should have built the horror around Cadi as a stranger in the house. But the mystery quickly becomes opaque and with little breadcrumbs to follow, the director struggles to keep the film’s momentum going. Hope’s in Annys Elwy who manages to appear both menacing and innocuous upon her entrance. Perhaps that’s exactly what causes the initial premise intriguing too – the entire first act is spent on figuring out whether Cadi’s just weird or deadly-weird.
Frankly, no one seems to know, including the director. With the right setting, Cadi could have entered the house as it was presumably intended by the director. Like an omen of evil that will inadvertently leave the ground scorched and full of bodies. Jones could also draw inspiration from M. Night Shyamalan’s horror darling The Servant (2019-) and revolve around the mansion-dwellers, keeping the newcomer as an observer of the slow disintegration happening within the four walls.
If we cross these concepts off, what’s left is a muddled story about kitchen help that’s not too keen on doing the dishes. To some degree, the leading actress needs to take the whole crew’s fall. Apart from a memorable entrance, Annys Elwy never owns that angel-of-death figure, nor does she manage to remain as our eyes and ears. The actress is bland, transparent even when Cadi does truly repelling things such as stuffing a piece of broken glass up in her genitals. If there’s madness in Cadi-on-paper, none of that was believably conjured up on the screen.
Since Lee Haven Jones dedicates so much time to a soulless, ill-conceived character, others inadvertently suffer from it too.
Delyth and her husband Gwyn are sketches that never develop any exciting colors. Average are the sons – a rebel without a cause and a strangely sexual to-be-cyclist. Both are patchworks as if made from bizarre, chaotic notes. Nothing exceptionally curious motivates them, although both Steffan Cennydd and Sion Alun Davies appeared to be promising characters in the beginning. Caroline Berry, who stars as Delyth, makes the most out of the limited role, arguably delivering the most complete performance on set.
Without any strong lead at its center or support to carry this weight, The Feast (2021) slouches, occasionally trying to stand still but only to mope around again. Plot proceedings are slow, however not slow-burn-kind of slow. They’re slow, because – and here comes another sad truth about the film – the script by Roger Williams’s paper-thin and should have been told as a short feature.
Outside of the stranger-in-my-house pattern, The Feast (2021) looks for room on both social and environmental levels. Williams’ constructed a cautionary tale about the consequences of hurting nature, albeit the phantasmagorical part related to this eco-themed aspect feels completely out of the blue. True intentions of Delyth and Gwyn are spoken out loud very late, and by the time most of the plot’s been dragged out ruthlessly. SXSW 2021 had better eco horrors to choose from – take Gaia (2021) as an example.
As a consequence, a fable that’s embedded in The Feast’s (2021) third act, barely sprouts from the ground. Grimm-esque, almost as if folk-based, the plot twist arrives without the proper build-up. When the dust settles, Jones reveals a handful of smartly-weaved details scattered throughout the movie – such as the true reason for Cadi’s awfully oily, soaking-wet hair. Nevertheless, the entire endeavor has been just a tedious exercise in form over substance.
The Feast (2021)
Reverse Grade: 8/10
Director: Lee Haven Jones
Writer: Roger Williams
Starring: Annys Elwy, Caroline Berry, Steffan Cennydd, Julian Lewis Jones