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SXSW 2021 ‘The Feast’ Review: A Delicately Disturbing Natural Thriller

SXSW

In The Feast, malevolence prowls behind the painted exterior of a family obsessed with image over respect, kindness and consequence. In a sprawling, incredibly cold house that is minimalistic in its opulence, this family prepare to host a dinner party with ritualized precision. The building is architecturally sharp and almost sinister; it feels nothing like a home. It stands on their ancestral farmland, a warm swath of Welsh countryside saturated in history and humility. Having already marred their own land, the owners now hope to carve out and exploit all of the surrounding countryside for mining. 

The family are composed of selfish politician Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) and his wife Glenda (Nia Roberts), who finds the most peace in her cold, prison-like meditation chamber. The former fails at even shooting rabbits, passing off conveniently placed bodies as his own kills, while the latter prattles on endlessly about superficial accomplishments and the microscopic faults of others. Their two sons are similarly dreadful: as one slinks around the grounds of the house bitterly smoking spliffs — having recently been dragged from the city to curb his drug addiction — the other spends an inordinate amount of time eyeing the way his muscles look in his cycling gear. Guto (Steffan Cennydd), the former, is filled with selfish anger toward the control his parents have exerted over his life, while Gweirydd (Siôn Alun Davies) moves through the world with unveiled smugness and narcissism. 

The spell of their ritual is broken by the arrival of a waterlogged Cadi (Annes Elwy), their hired assistance for the evening, who shows up on foot and takes in the modernist home with unfocused eyes. Moving about with all the gangliness of a fawn, Cadi panics when presented with dead rabbits and shovels soil into her mouth with a strange fervor.

Slow to reveal its hand, The Feast at first feels like a subtle possession story: something is unhinged about Cadi from the beginning, but not enough to cause much alarm until the narrative unravels and her kindhearted air is revealed to be ultimately unforgiving. Tension is scrupulously built through articulate dialogue, disturbing familial banter, and a rhythmic score. The exploitative behavior of the family is subtly woven into the fabric of the film, their entitlement and disrespect becoming increasingly apparent as the dinner descends into a bloodbath. They gleefully take advantage of the natural world, and they are to be punished for their entitlement. 

More than their habitual violation of nature, the family seems to possess a disdain for their heritage and a flagrant disrespect for the ancestral. This is where the cadence of the film shifts to something more spiritual and folkloric. The local lore surrounding the land holds it as something sacred, attached to a sometimes merciless force or being. While the family brushes that lore off as nothing more than stories meant to frighten children, their neighbor Mair (Lisa Palfrey) rejects their interest in her land because she knows too well what must be left undisturbed. As someone full of respect and love for the earth beneath her feet, she alone remains unscathed.  

The Feast offers a dark lesson on the importance of respecting the natural world and the consequences of falling prey to greed. It tells us that violence against humans — particularly sexual violence — is analogous to the pillaging and destructive commodification of the earth. It also tells us, if we imagine Cadi to be a metaphorization of the land, that nature is traumatized and scarred and vengeful. The film does so in a thrillingly gruesome manner, and even with all of its multitudes, it makes explosive sense. 

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Jenna Kalishman

Jenna Kalishman is a writer and student at Colorado College pursuing English and film studies. She especially loves morally questionable female characters, Stevie Nicks, sapphic yearning, and Rachel Weisz's energy in The Favourite.

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