As the eye of the climate change storm draws closer, the output of modern films has steadily amplified its reflection of humanity’s swelling eco-anxieties. These sentiments can be felt in Todd Haynes’ bio-drama Dark Waters or Steven Soderbergh’s period thriller No Sudden Move; the underwater dystopia of Reminiscence; the adolescent uncertainty in Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon; and the arid wasteland of the exploited planet Arrakis in Dune. And the first shot of director Lee Haven Jones’ feature debut, The Feast, is that of our own planet’s most formidable opponent: An ugly oil rig, situated smack dab in the center of a rolling pasture. It relentlessly pummels into the ground to procure that precious liquid gold, while the worker in charge of handling the machinery stands idly by, indifferent to the destruction at play.
But the oil rig is as gawkily placed amidst the natural landscape as the multi-million dollar, rural Welsh home of Glenda (Nia Roberts) and her family: Wife to a member of Britain’s Parliament, mother to Guto (Steffan Cennydd), a junkie, and Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies), a doctor-turned-triathlon trainee. With the hired help of Cadi (Annes Elwy)—a last-minute replacement for the local pub worker Glenda normally seeks out—Glenda prepares a sumptuous dinner meant to goad a longtime friend into selling her land for cash profit. On the side, Glenda and her husband Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) pillage untapped farmland for oil, with the help of their business associate Euros (Rhodri Meilir). The property owned by Mair (Lisa Palfrey) is one such patch of terrain that has yet to be explored. It could certainly yield little to no returns, but it could also be sheltering riches under its earthen flesh that would only serve to benefit the financially beset Mair and her husband.
In order to create the ideal conditions for persuading Mair to enter into an alliance with the three of them, high-strung, upper-class housewife Glenda must ensure that she assembles the perfect evening. Such a task is easier said than done, however. Cadi’s assistance proves somewhat inadequate, moving at a snail’s pace as if her own body does not belong to her. A trail of dirt seems to follow her wherever she goes. Barely vocal, Cadi is spacy and vacant as she interacts with Glenda and her uniquely disquieting family. Yet, the young woman feels things quite deeply, like when Gwyn’s shotgun goes off out in the woods nearby, signaling the pair of rabbits that he has killed for supper. When Gwyn enters the kitchen and slaps the two dead animals down on the countertop for Cadi to skin, she sprints out of the house and purges in the yard. She tenses at the discussion of murdered creatures and ravaged earth. She treads through the family’s home as if undressing it for her own ends.
In The Feast, Mother Nature fights back. It’s not altogether dissimilar from two films released earlier this year (David Lowry’s The Green Knight and Scott Cooper’s Antlers) in which the planet’s wrath against humankind is personified in the form of a singular, vengeful beast. Jones’ film (penned by Roger Williams), however, finds itself somewhere in the middle. Despite a scant, 90-minute runtime, The Feast is more than comfortable taking its time building tension. This is welcome at times and exhausting at others, creating an overall pacing frustration comparable to the response time of Cadi. Nevertheless, Cadi is played to unnerving perfection by Elwy, whose unnatural characterization is matched by the equally unsettling supporting performances of Glenda’s family. But the film suffers from a similar inelegant thematic handling to that of Antlers—a habitual fault in modern horror that strives too hard to be “about something” and really mean it. Yes, there’s something wrong with Cadi. The film wants to make sure you know exactly what it is. It’s to the point where the trail of breadcrumbs left behind for the audience to sift through becomes something like a line of entire loaves.
Still, Jones suffuses slow-burn tension, disturbing visual elements and murky folk horror into a film that’s foundation rests on creeping uncertainties—making The Feast pleasantly obscure and occasionally quite upsetting. This is sustained by the world as seen through the eyes of cinematographer Bjørn Ståle Bratberg, whose scenery is as richly textured in the countryside of Wales as in the pristine, vacant modernity of Glenda’s home. The Feast is, among other things, obsessed with space. The empty space of the natural world that surrounds the family like a constant threat; the space within their vast, sterile domicile that separates body from body; the space within Glenda’s private meditation room, her pride and joy, yet which Mair likens to a prison cell. And the space that we, as humans, have imposed between ourselves and the very Earth that we live on. We alienate ourselves from the landscape we need to survive as we turn green into black. We become something uncanny, something not quite human. In The Feast, Mother Nature fights back, but we are more a danger to each other than the Earth could ever be.
Director: Lee Haven Jones
Writers: Roger Williams
Starring: Annes Elwy, Nia Roberts, Julian Lewis Jones
Release Date: November 19, 2021
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.